The MCO understands the importance of music education, which is why we’ve developed a unique instructional resource for teachers and parents. Written by music educator Beryl Peters, Ph.D, MCO’s Listening Guides provide a clear and thorough analysis of the repertoire featured in our concerts. They offer a perfect primer to the great works of Bach, Beethoven, Britten and beyond for K-8 and 9-12 students — with engaging historical anecdotes and simple theory for younger students, and more complex information for older students. Indeed, just about anyone can learn a thing or two from our MTS Future First Listening Guides … so dig in!


Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) composed his String Quartet No.2 in 1928 when he was around 74 years old. The string quartet was one of two string quartets commissioned by the Bohemian Quartet in 1923. Janáček subtitled String Quartet No. 1 “after Tolstoy’s Kreutzer sonata” and further information about this work can be found in the Listening Guide for the February 18, 2015 Manitoba Chamber Orchestra concert.

Janáček also subtitled his second string quartet. He originally gave it the name “Love Letters” and then re-titled it “Intimate Letters” referring to hundreds of letters that Janáček wrote over many years, expressing his love to a young, married woman named Kamila Stösslová. Janáček’s wife Zdenka stated that Stösslová was unimpressed with Janáček and although Stösslová did not return Janáček’s love and kept him at a distance for many years, the composer pursued Stösslová obsessively and relentlessly for over a decade and she was the inspiration for several of Janáček’s works, including the second String Quartet.

Janáček’s letters to Kamila Stösslová have been described as largely imaginative — his fantasized vision of what he hoped his relationship with Kamila could be. Janáček himself describes the relationship that inspires the string quartet as both real and imagined. In his letters to Kamila, Janáček calls the String Quartet No. 2 his “first composition whose notes glow with all the dear things that we’ve experienced together. You stand behind every note, you, living, forceful, loving … but everything’s still only longed for …”

Janáček described his second String Quartet as “beautiful, strange, unrestrained, inspired, a composition beyond all the usual conventions” (Arnold Whittall, 2003, p. 34).


Manitoba Music Curricular Connections

9-12 Making: The learner develops competencies for listening by listening critically with discrimination and purpose to:

  • situate and contextualize music (e.g., cultural/ ideological/historical/social contexts, music style, genre, tradition, or praxis, etc.)
  • support enjoyment and understanding of music
  • make and interpret music expressively and creatively
  • inform analysis, interpretation, judgement, appreciation, and evaluation

K-8 Understanding Music in Context: Demonstrate awareness of the intended meanings and/or purposes of music encountered in own performance and listening experiences

9-12 Connecting: The learner develops understandings about the significance of music by connecting music to diverse contexts.

The following music elements and questions can help you listen to this work:

1 Form in music refers to the musical architecture or the way the music is structured. Although this string quartet transcription is structured in four movements, you will not hear the kinds of traditional forms that classical composers commonly used for their string quartets. Instead, the four movements could be compared to scenes in an opera, each telling a different story about Janáček’s feelings for Kamila Stösslová as revealed through his letters to her. Sometimes the different scenes are challenging to distinguish however, as there is continuous development of various rhythmic and melodic fragments of sound. Janáček begins each of his four movements with these tempo markings:
  1. Andante (moderately slow, walking tempo)
  2. Adagio (slow)
  3. Moderato (moderate pace)
  4. Allegro (lively and quickly)
However, the movements are difficult to distinguish by tempo markings alone, as Janáček changes tempos many times during each movement, for example:
  1. Andante — Con moto – Allegro
  2. Adagio – Vivace – Andante – Presto – Allegro – Vivo — Adagio
  3. Moderato – Adagio — Allegro
  4. Allegro – Andante – Con moto – Adagio – Tempo I

The form used within each of the four movements also does not follow conventional kinds of musical structure and development although the fourth movement could be described as a kind of sonata/rondo form that features two contrasting and recurring thematic motifs. The first motif is heard at the opening of the fourth movement and the second motif takes the form of a leaping, trilled note melodic fragment.

Throughout the string quartet/transcription, themes are generally not presented in their entirety to be developed in predictable keys and ways as in Haydn or Mozart’s time. Janáček may present a theme or theme fragment and then immediately interrupt its development with sudden exclamations of sound from other instruments. Can you hear this kind of treatment in the string quartet? What is the effect of this kind of musical structure?

2 The original String Quartet was written for 2 violins, viola, and cello but the performance by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra is a transcription for string orchestra by Michael Oesterle on commission from the MCO. What instruments can you hear in this transcription for string orchestra? How many performers are playing onstage?

Can you hear the highly charged conversations taking place between various instruments and sections of the orchestra that create feelings of intense emotional dialogue and quality? When do you hear individual instruments or sections and when do you hear the orchestra playing together? Which instruments are given the predominant motifs that are heard in this work?

Can you pick out the viola in this work? The viola has a special and prominent role in this string quartet, as Janáček used this instrument to personify Kamila Stösslová. Janáček originally intended this part to be played by the romantic viola d’amore known as the viola of love. However, the soft tone quality of its sound didn’t blend well with the other instruments of the string quartet, so Janáček replaced the viola d’amore with the traditional viola. What can you find out about the viola d’amore?

3 Janáček uses expressive elements (musical elements that express certain feelings or dispositions) to capture his intense emotions and passion for Kamila Stösslová. The composer uses rapidly changing tempos (the speed of the music) and accelerando (increases in tempo) to suggest agitation, anguish, passion, and varying emotions. Can you hear a particularly expressive accelerando in the third movement? This accelerando is so intense it creates an almost dizzying effect.

Does the string quartet/transcirption begin quickly or slowly? Can you hear when the music changes tempo? Can you hear when the tempo of the music changes and gets faster or slower in other sections of the string quartet transcription? How does that affect the mood of the work? Can you hear when Janáček repeats the same motif at different tempos?

Dynamics (the volume of the music) are also used to convey dramatic emotion, tension, and passionate feelings. When do you hear music or small motifs played loudly? Quietly? When do the dynamics change dramatically and what effect does that create? When does the music get suddenly louder (crescendo) or quieter (decrescendo)? Can you hear that the opening of this string quartet begins very loudly and then suddenly becomes very quiet just a short while later (bar 9)?

Other expressive elements and special effects that create different moods throughout the work include sections marked rubato (expressive and rhythmic freedom) the use of tremolo (rapid back and forth movement of the bow on the same note) and sul ponticello (playing with the bow on or near the bridge). Can you hear the use of sul ponticello in the viola part in the opening of the first movement (bar 9)? Do you hear the use of tremolo in the viola and in other parts that creates frenzied, emotionally charged feelings?

Janáček uses expressive effects in highly contrasting ways. Contrasts in tempo, dynamics, tone colour, and texture are dramatically juxtaposed, and there are frequent changes of tempo, texture, dynamics and tone colour. What effect and mood is created by these contrasts and changes?

Janáček stated that the first movement depicted the impression the composer had when he first saw Kamila; the second movement depicted his experience seeing Kamila over a year later; the third movement was intended to “dissolve into a vision that resembles your [Kamila’s] image;” and the fourth movement was intended by Janáček to represent his great longing for Kamila and imagined fulfillment. How does the use of expressive elements help to create the contrasting and varying emotions that Janáček intended?

4 How is rhythm used in this string quartet transcription? Is this the kind of music that you can easily tap a steady rhythm or beat to? Can you hear that Janáček uses a very wide range and variety of rhythms that he repeats, contrasts and combines? Do you hear the way that Janáček uses rhythmic fragments to create the impression of speech patterns? Can you hear short rhythmic patterns (motifs) repeated at the opening of the work? Can you hear that the rhythmic pattern in the first four bars is repeated immediately and almost exactly in bars 5-8?

Do you hear the propelling rhythmic patterns rapidly repeated or repeated at different tempos to create feelings of great intensity? Can you hear an ostinato (a continually repeated melody or rhythm pattern) effect anywhere in this work? How are rhythms used to create a sense of drama and conflict in this work? Can you pick out dance sounding rhythms in the movement that begins Adagio?

5 How is melody or pitch used in this string quartet transcription?

Is this the kind of music that you can easily pick out a melody to hum or sing? Can you pick out short melodic motifs heard throughout the work? Can you hear the opening four bar melodic fragment repeated in bars 5-8? Can you pick out 3 different themes in the first movement? One theme, perhaps representing Janáček, is heard in the violins played over a trembling sound in the cellos; another theme is played by the sul ponticello viola representing Kamila; and a third leaping, arpeggio theme can be heard in the first violin.

Can you hear when these short melodic fragments are repeated, contrasted with each other, and combined in different ways throughout the movement? Can you hear when short motifs are rapidly repeated or repeated at changing tempos in this and other movements? Do you hear high sounds or pitches? Do you hear low sounds or pitches? Can you hear when the short motifs move higher or lower in pitch? Do you hear short melodic fragments played and traded by certain instruments or sections of instruments?

Can you hear two different themes played by the viola in the adagio movement? These themes are often considered to represent a love duet between Janáček and Kamila Stösslová. Does the first melody played by the viola suggest sadness perhaps as a result of distance between Janáček and the woman he loves? Can you hear how this theme is transformed throughout the movement by different instruments and expressive treatment? Do you hear a sudden dance tune that might suggest an orchestra playing at the spa where Janáček and Kamila met in the setting suggested by this movement? What happens to the dance melody? Does it continue happily or do the sad sounding melodies of the opening movement return? What does this sad melodic ending suggest about the meaning of the second movement?

6 What different kinds of textures do you hear in this work? Do you hear how Janáček uses the instruments to create a more minimalistic effect than the fuller orchestral sounds created in the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 26 also on this program? Janáček does not use traditional approaches to harmony or instrumental texture in this work but instead paints a mosaic of sound with various sound effects, tone colours, and melodic and rhythmic fragments, often interrupted by other instrumental sounds.

7 What kinds of instrumental timbre do you hear? Timbre is the different qualities of sound that can be heard, for example the kinds of sounds that the string instruments make when they play together. When does the timbre of the music change because certain instruments are added or taken away? Can you hear different qualities of sound created by different instruments playing with the expressive techniques and effects such as sul ponticello described above? Can you hear the particular timbre of the viola (lower than the violin but higher than the cello) standing out over the other instruments at any time in this work?


Reflections and Responses (K-8 Valuing; 9-12 Responding)

Grades 9-12 Responding

The learner develops and uses critical reflection and thinking for music learning:

  • the learner generates initial reactions to music experiences
  • the learner critically listens to, observes, and describes music experiences
  • the learner analyzes and interprets music experiences
  • the learner constructs meanings about music experiences

Grades K-8 Valuing

Students analyze, reflect on, and construct meaning in response to their own and others’ music:

  • students analyze their own and others
  • musical excerpts, works, and performances
  • students form personal responses to and construct meaning from their own and others’ music

1 What is your immediate response to this music? Does this music sound like any other music you have heard before? What does this music make you think of?

2 Various sources have pointed out that Janáček was obsessed with Kamila Stösslová. If you listen to Janáček’s work with that perspective in mind, how are Janáček’s obsessive feelings translated into music?

What feelings did it seem that Janáček was trying to communicate to his audience in this work? What music elements seemed to be important to him?

3What adjectives might describe the mood that you felt when listening to this work? Can you identify what musical elements may have created that mood for you? When did the mood change and why?

4 What musical elements did you enjoy or find interesting? What effect did the melodic fragments or short themes have on you? Did the rhythms, dynamics, or tempos used by Janáček capture emotional intensity for you or did they create a different emotional response? What feeling were you left with at the end of the fourth movement? Is this a happy love story? Did the work end on a hopeful or a despairing note for you?

5 Were there parts of the work that you did not enjoy? Why or why not? Can you identify which music elements made you enjoy or not enjoy the music?

6 Different people often have different responses to the same music. Ask someone else who heard the same music about her or his response to this transcription of Janáček’s String Quartet No.2.

7 Is there other music by Janáček that you could listen to and compare to the sounds and experience of this transcription of the String Quartet No. 2? Perhaps you could listen to Janáček’s String Quartet No. 1, subtitled “Kreutzer Sonata” that the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra premiered as an orchestral arrangement on March 17, 2015.