Hudební Věda

Karel Janeček’s Concept of Music Theory Teaching

article summary

Miloš Hons

Karel Janeček (1903–1974) was a key figure in the process of laying down the foundations of Czech modern music theory. Apart from his contribution as a scholar and a composer, he entered the history of Czech music as the originator of a new concept of university-level music theory teaching, setting up a framework whose essence has continued to serve as a model to this day. After a brief period of teaching at the Prague Conservatory, he spent the following three decades of his career at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (AMU), where he was head of the Department of Music Theory. It was also there that he initiated the publication of an edited volume of scholarly texts by various authors entitled Živá hudba (Living Music), containing theoretical and musicological contributions by members of his department as well as other AMU teachers. The volume´s concept took shape under Janeček’s editorial supervision, and its contents included several relevant texts penned by himself. His work as a teacher of players, conductors, music directors and, most notably, composers, served Janeček as an empirical testing ground for the premises, concepts and systemic principles he came to formulate in his major books and essays. Viewed from the historical perspective, his most significant books include Základy moderní harmonie (Modern Harmony, 1965), Hudební formy (Music Forms, 1955), and Tektonika – nauka o stavbě skladeb (Tectonics: A Theory of the Structure of Compositions, 1968). Beyond that, he was the author of innovative treatises on melodics (Melodika, 1956), an analytical method of teaching harmony (Harmonie rozborem, 1963), and compositional work in the field of Classical harmony (Skladatelská práce v oblasti klasické harmonie, 1973). Janeček’s teaching commitments at AMU were centered around two theoretical courses whose concepts he drew up and put into practice: namely, Theory of Composition, and Composition Analysis Seminar which was later renamed to Study of Compositions. Both courses were intended primarily for students of composition and conducting, i.e., fields whose study presupposes a higher level of theoretical background. With the passage of time, as Janeček brought out his essential theoretical writings, his theory of composition came to serve as the obligatory supplement to all disciplines of music theory. It was focused on three areas: (a) modern harmony, (b) melodics, and (c) tectonics. Janeček centered the methodology of teaching these disciplines around the synthesis of two primary methods: compositional, and analytical. The ultimate stage of analytical work was represented by activated analysis, an approach he applied most notably in his analysis of the chamber output of Bedřich Smetana (Smetanova komorní tvorba, 1978).

Keywords: Karel Janeček, music theory, music analysis

The complete text of this article can be found in the printed edition of Hudební věda 3/2019

Translated by Ivan Vomáčka