Janacek changed so many things for me

Janacek changed so many things for me


norman lebrecht

November 29, 2021

The English composer Isobel Waller-Bridge has come to music by unconventional routes, neither modernist nor academic.

Her discovery of Leos Janacek as a transformative influence is unusual as much as it is exciting. The next two musical guides she names are Gyorgy Kurtag and Francis Poulenc.

Makes you want to hear more.

Sister act



  • Jim C says:

    It’s a little depressing to think that “discovering” Janacek is considered to be a really big deal now. How could you *not* know about him? I first saw his recordings in the public library when I was 14. What world are these composers in now?

  • John Borstlap says:

    That ‘Illuminations’ piece is completely empty; sound art with two alternating intervals, ‘ambient” music with an absolute minimum of effort. Satie’s ‘Vexations’ are overwhelimg rich in comparison.


    Here’s more by the lady:




    It’s simpleton music for the simpletons or for visual productions where it is mere ornamentation. It is – at most – sentimental wallpaper at the back of an old ladies’ afternoon tea party.

    But that is not surprising:

    “Isobel Waller-Bridge is an award-winning composer at the forefront of a new wave of emerging artists in film, television and theatre. Her soundtracks include Vanity Fair (ITV & Amazon), Vita & Virginia (Protagonist Pictures), The Split (BBC One), Fleabag (BBC & Amazon), Woyzeck (Old Vic), Knives in Hens (Donmar Warehouse).”

    “Isobel has created dramatic original scores for feature films, television drama, and narrative-driven entertainment. Lauded for her trademark electronic sound worlds and scoring sweeping melodies for large-scale orchestra.”


    It’s nothing, just sentimental entertainment / pop / film / theatre music. That’s OK but it is not to be taken seriously. Everybody has to try to make a living. The problems only arise where people cannot make any distinctions and merely react at whatever stimuli, and think it must be ‘classical music’, and claim categories that are entirely fraudulous.

    • CRogers says:

      Firstly she’s talking about discovering Janacek and Poulenc. There’s no moment when these composers should be discovered. Jim Cs comment above about it being ‘depressing’ is interesting. I see it as the opposite. A young musician discovering composers. He also says that he knew Janacek at 14. As my old psychology tutor used to say: ‘comparisons are a disease of the mind’. I see nothing ‘fraudulent’. People can judge for themselves whether a piece of music connects with them.

    • Deaf says:

      Sounds like jealousy

  • 18mebrumaire says:

    Perhaps a more appropriate title for “Illuminations” would be “Meander in the Mist”.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    I won’t comment on her music, except to say that writing for films, television, even video games, is not to my mind as disqualifying for a serious composer as it seems to be for John Borstlap.

    Perhaps it warrants thinking back to a time, not so very long ago, when if you were young and determined to explore and get to know “modern” music, the available written sources to guide you were so incredibly doctrinaire that Poulenc and Leoš Janáček would not have been mentioned, even to be dismissed passé. They were beyond passé. Their music was recorded, to be sure, but often just a select and perhaps not totally representative sample. This is well before the CD era that I speak of.

    Speaking personally, having read the sniffy things the elder Stravinsky wrote about both of them (or Robert Craft wrote and put Stravinsky’s name to it, as he was known to do) I paid little attention to either when I made my initial adolescent attempts to get to know modern music, since I tended to be rather sniffy myself back then. And yet I clearly was not really enjoying all the Milton Babbitt and Stockhausen LPs the local library had to lend. It took a concert by the Smetana String Quartet to make me need/want to explore Janáček more fully; and it was having to play Poulenc’s Concert champêtre in the university orchestra that opened that door, and that’s not even his best piece. No self respecting (or at least, tenured) academic voice of any reputation back then was going to suggest those names.

    It was even better once I learned they both wrote violin sonatas.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Since postwar modernism, anything ‘still tonal’ was anathema because of the linear thinking of the new music ideology as it was hammered into the heads of students. Poulenc was a great composer, as was Janacek, and see: they survived the times, and the prophets of modernism who claimed superiority, moral, musical, historical – where are they now? At most they occupy a miniature place at the margin of music life for the shrinked old group of tonedeaf people who cling to the future of the past. It is all that silly progressive thinking that has created an immense fog of nonsense, in a vain attempt to cancel ‘the past’.

      Because ‘the past’, that was insurmountable competition in terms of artistic quality. Instead of learning from it, and trying to emulate it, it had to be destroyed. At heart, that movement was fascist.