Janáček’s approach to rhythm is relatively free; the music displays rhythmic flexibility that gives his compositions special vitality. It engenders a sense of freshness and unpredictability in the context of remarkable rhythmic designs. This presentation looks at excerpts from three late works to demonstrate how Janáček’s rhythmic freedom generates profound text-music relationships in his vocal music and rhythmic conflict in his instrumental music. The first song from Diary of One Who Vanished employs uneven rhythmic groupings and changing rhythmic placement of motives, both characteristics apparently determined by the text. The third movement of the wind sextet Mládí utilizes a built-in 2-vs.- 3 conflict which intensifies as the piece progresses and introduces a somewhat humorous element. The third movement of the Second String Quartet introduces a rhythmic displacement which allows the first violin to gain temporary rhythmic independence and express the composer’s exuberance over his muse Kamila.
The excerpts point to an inherent rhythmic complexity of Janáček’s compositional thinking, a feature facilitated by his free approach to rhythm. While the characteristic appears to be innate—appearing in some form even in Janáček’s earliest compositions—it would have been reinforced by contact with Czech folk music and the music of his contemporaries. It became an essential component of Janáček’s late masterpieces.