The first volume of John Tyrrell’s monumental biography of Janácek covered the first sixty years of the composer’s life, taking the story up to the eve of the Great War. This second and final instalment, weighing in at over 1,000 pages, covers just the last fourteen years, until Janácek’s sudden death from pneumonia in August 1928. The last decade of his life in particular (which coincided with Czechoslovak independence) was phenomenally productive and on its own more than justifies such extensive treatment. His life was also, by that stage, exceptionally complicated, the result of the composer’s roving eye and unhappy marriage. It is to Tyrrell’s credit that he complements his musical scholarship with a detailed exposition of his subject’s private life because, as he points out, they were to influence much of his music. As with the first volume, the essentially chronological structure of the book is interrupted by stand-alone essays, on subjects as various as Janácek’s relationship with Modernism, the influences on his operas, the autobiographical aspects of what he wrote, the state of his finances, and the medical reasons for his death.
Janácek’s first big step towards fame had been taken a decade before this volume begins, with the composition of his opera Jenufa. The Czech lands in the Austro-Hungarian empire were notably parochial. Janáceck was a Moravian, based in Brno, and it was not until during the war that Jenufa –