Taras Bulba is a direct reflection of Janá?ek’s glowing enthusiasm for and sympathies with the struggling Russian nation. The name of his tripartite symphonic rhapsody refers to Gogol’s treatment of the Ukrainian legend of the Cossack Taras Bulba, who died a hero’s death after defeating the Poles in battle in 1628.
Walter Dobner (from the programme booklet 2006/2007):
… as early as 1905, during the time of the Russian-Japanese War, Janá?ek was already thinking of setting the material to music. He did not do it until 10 years later, when occasion to do so arose: the turmoil of World War I.
Janá?ek documented the musico-dramatic veins by deliberately concentrating on three striking episodes chosen from the Gogol novella. The first, “Andrij’s Death,” depicts Taras Bulba’s son Andrij falling in love with a Polish girl, betraying his comrades and being shot to death by his father. The second, “Ostap’s Death,” retells how the Poles torture and kill Taras Bulba’s firstborn son before his very eyes as he looks on helplessly. “Taras Bulba’s Prophecy and Death” portrays the Cossack ataman – captured and tortured by the Poles – professing his faith in eternal Russia as he is burning at the stake …