The Czech and Slovak Music Society

Newsletter


Volume I, Number 1

Summer 1997


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A FUNERAL IN PRAGUE

(Submitted by Michael Beckerman)

They are beginning to line up in front of the Ceremonial Hall of the Prague Crematorium. The first to enter are the Kocian String Quartet. They were to have played for Jarmil Burghauser's birthday party but couldn't do it. Now they are here for his funeral.

Jarmil Burghauser was the real thing. You may have noticed a tendency to identify Dvořák's music by "B" numbers the way Mozart's music is known by its "K." Burghauser was Dvořák's Kochel. He was editor of the Complete Edition of Dvořák's works and author of the forthcoming Thematic Catalogue of his works. He was also a composer. When I once requested his number through directory assistance in Prague the operator got very excited, "You mean Jarmil Burghauser the composer?" Of course he couldn't always compose under his own name since he was never a member of the Communist Party. This led to one of his great roles. He became "Michael Hajku" a composer "dedicated to filling in the gaps in Czech music history." For example, we know that the great Czech Baroque composer, Adam Michna wrote some instrumental works but they did not survive. Too bad, but Michael Hajku came to the rescue with the "hommagio a Michna," and if a British Early Music group wanted to record the thing as the genuine article, why not?  Documents suggest there was a "St. Vitus Dance," but no scores can be found. Here comes Michael Hajku! Once I said to Burghauser, "It's a joke, isn't it?" He answered with a smile. "Of course it's a joke." The smile vanished, "but a serious joke."

Out in the courtyard the late February sun is doing its best imitation of Spring. More people are arriving and at least half of them are in uniform. This is another side of Burghauser. After the Velvet Revolution he became head of the Czech Boy Scouts! It was a heady time and people like Burghauser often had numerous jobs. While reestablishing the Scouts in a democratic regime he was also sifting through the past, serving on an important committee of the Union of Composers which was in charge of rehabilitating those whose reputations had been smeared by the Communists. His main project was a book on Dvořák's early years, which he felt had been completely misunderstood. He was fond of proclaiming "Dvořák was never meant to be a butcher!" At some point in the early '90's he picked up his doctorate. His studies had been cut short by the war and there was a strong feeling that someone of his eminence should have a chance to get one.

Musicologists, composers, performers, friends, admirers and Boy Scouts file into the chapel. A large room with very few seats, most of us stand and look at the small coffin on the stage. We hear a choral work by the composer and then the slow movement from Dvořák's Quartet in Ab, B.193, the last purely instrumental work finished by the composer. It recomposes itself for this occasion. Normally the elegiac middle section would simply serve to set off the transparent main theme, but on this occasion we focus eerily on the darker moments.

This contextual turnabout is precisely the kind of thing Burghauser would have adored. His passion was to achieve an ideal synthesis of activity and reflection. There was another thing to like about Burghauser. He was the son-in-law of Dvořák's first great biographer, Otakar Šourek and had an enormous bust of him on one of the pianos. Imagine, the bust of a musicologist! The mind reels.

The chapel continues to fill up as various officials from the Dvořák Society, the Union of Composers and the Scouts take their turns to describe the deceased, but of course, they simply circumscribe him. At the end we hear the closing strains of Dvořák's great opera, Rusalka. If ever a work has been misunderstood, it is this one, both in its details and broad outline. Many wish to view it as a charming Czech fairy tale, a kind of Slavic Little Mermaid. In reality it is Dvořák's most overwhelmingly tragic Wagnerian synthesis. Perhaps the most obvious borrowing comes at the end of the work. The Prince has died, unwilling to live without Rusalka's fatal kiss. The former Water-nymph, now a wraith, walks off stage to begin an eternity of restless wandering. But the music tells a different tale as we hear a paraphrase from Lohengrin which suggests that the Prince, and perhaps even Rusalka, have ascended to heaven and have been redeemed.

Burghauser was a great man for at least two reasons. First, he was a musician through and through, a relic of the old "muzikant" tradition where a musician did everything, from composing to arranging, editing, conducting and playing. At one time or another most of the foreign scholars who came to study Dvořák found this out in his living room, dominated by two grand pianos. Lengthy discussion of editing and aesthetics were followed by hours of playing. Burghauser loved the standard 4-hand and two piano repertoire, but he also was passionate about improvising two piano arrangements of Czech folk songs. His favorite tune was from his own beloved South Bohemian town of Písek. The song "When I went to the Putím Gate," is a waltz, distinguished among other things by the following unlikely lines: "When I went to the Putím Gate two maids said 'Student! Let's make love,' but I said, 'No I must go and study (!)'" The second reason for Burghauser's greatness is simple: he survived. He survived the humiliation of censorship and being banned, he survived all the indignities of being professionally buried. And he emerged as probably a finer, more imaginative and compassionate human being; like Havel and some others, he emerged with his soul intact.

As the last measures of Rusalka sound the small brown coffin begins to move towards the back of the stage on an invisible conveyer belt. It is at once a hackneyed gesture and a deeply moving one. The coffin slowly recedes as the organ swells. Burghauser, Lohengrin, Dvořák, Rusalka and her Prince are reunited and the red velvet curtain closes on the last act.

*   *   *   *

FUNERAL IN BRNO -
 
            DIED: JULY 31 1995
            THE BRNO MUSIC INFORMATION CENTER
            CAUSE OF DEATH:
            REVOLUTION/LACK OF INTEREST/ BAD MANAGEMENT

(Submitted by Michael Beckerman)

The Brno Music Information Center died a quiet death after a short illness on July 31, 1995, at the age of 27. It was born on March 11, 1968, just a few months before Russian tanks entered the country to crush the liberalizing Prague Spring. The Center was created with the aim of disseminating information and materials dealing with Czech, and particularly Moravian music. Managed by the Czech Music Foundation--during the Communist years a fabulously wealthy organization, since it received all the royalties from the Czech publications of Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček, and Martinů--the Center was instrumental in encouraging research and performance of Moravian music. A classic institution of the Cold War, during its years of operation the Center gave out literally thousands of scores, books, pamphlets, and recordings to scholars and performers all over the world.

Brno is a compelling city, lying more than one hundred miles southeast of Prague. While Prague has conquered the tourist world, Brno is a place where one can more easily capture local traditions; the people are friendlier, the cab drivers less mercenary, and the prices considerably lower. This provincial capital of a half million has many scenic wonders to recommend, including gothic churches and monasteries, wonderful old pubs and wine cellars, and splendid parks. It has a concentrated downtown area comprising Freedom Square and the Cabbage Market, while narrow streets wind upward to the Peter and Paul Church. There are several lovely performance venues within a few blocks of each other, including the recently renovated Besední Dům where many works of Dvořák and Janáček were premiered. Unlike the more urbanized Prague, Brno seems to let out directly into the countryside, indeed several tram lines go through the fields even today.

The composer most closely associated with the city, and the one who benefited most from the activities of the Brno Music Information Center is Leos Janáček. Though Janáček was born in the Northern Moravian village of Hukvaldy, he spent most of his life deeply involved with the cultural and artistic life of Brno, then a hotbed of Pan-Slavonic and nationalist fervor. While it would be an exaggeration to insist that the Brno Center alone was responsible for the boom in Janáček studies and performance, it was certainly a key player in the process by which Janáček moved from provincial second rater to world class composer.

As important as the Center itself is the woman who managed it--Dr. Alena Němcová (pronounced Nyemtsovah). Němcová studied music at the Masaryk University of Brno, where there is a tradition of Janáček studies dating back to the work of Vladimír Helfert in the 1930s, and she became the head of the Center when it opened. A charming modest woman with a round face and twinkling blue eyes, she was one of the many unsung heroes who was significant in building bridges between East and West in the troubled times of the Cold War. "You know, " she says, "the people who headed the Czech Music Foundation were Communists, but they weren't hard Communists." She spoke about her bosses, the charming Dr. Ledec (who made a special trip to see me in England when I could not get a visa), and the tough old Communist Vladimír Šěvčík who recently died. "Even Šěvčík had fairly liberal policies, and you know, for all the nonsense, he really loved music!" She shakes her head, "More than the people that run it now."

The old Brno Music Information Center was in Janáček's Organ School, the site of the Janáček Archive. We are sitting in the relatively new Center, in the Brno Town Hall, near the place where the famous Brno dragon hangs (actually just an old stuffed crocodile). There are concert posters on the walls, a bust of Janáček, rows of dictionaries and research materials, a CD player, and years and years of files. Němcová looks through a yellowed collection of file cards, her graying hair in a youthful bun. Some of the best scholars and performers have made themselves at home here, Rudolf Firkušný, Charles Mackerras and John Tyrrell. "They've come from all over," says Němcová, "Japan, Russia, New Zealand, Italy, Denmark, Bulgaria, the United States, Germany. That fellow who was President of Lithuania, what's his name, Landsbergis, even he was here getting some information. I thought of sending him a telegram after his revolution."

Němcová was everything to everyone in what people have called the "Good Old Bad Old Days." She encouraged all the younger scholars and performers, sent them materials, ran interference for them with the sometimes forbidding Jiří Sehnal (Sehenal), head of the Moravian Museum which housed the Janáček Archive, and regularly put people up at her home. Sometime in the early 80s a rumor started that Alena had died. It was so difficult to even place a call to Czechoslovakia that it took days to straighten the whole thing out. By the time John Tyrrell sent a laconic postcard ("Aside from a small cold, Alena says she is fine") dozens of people had sent regrets and laudatory messages. "It was a great thing for me. I never knew how people felt" she said with a wry smile.

Despite her brilliance as a scholar, Němcová has sometimes been treated a little bit condescendingly by some of the Janáček Mafia in Brno. To them, she was just a bureaucrat, but they missed the point. It was Němcová who helped to keep Janáček research and performance alive on an international level, not them. Besides, she is just getting her second wind, for after leaving the Center, she will immediately start as head of the Janáček Foundation. She will return to her old office in the Janáček Organ School, just across from the house where Janáček and his wife lived, and continue to work to propagate Janáček's works by organizing activities and fundraising. She will also have more time for her own research which includes compiling a thematic catalogue and editing several of Janáček's works.

Things have changed in Brno, and the passing of the Center is not the only one of them. Němcová looks at me sadly, "You know, when you were here in the 70s and spoke about not being able to walk safely in the streets in the USA at night, none of us really believed you, we thought you were just giving us a socialist line. But now Brno has become a dangerous place, and it's very disturbing. All these horrible people have come out of the woodwork." Alena Němcová is voicing the fears of so many who thought Marxist Leninism was the worst nightmare of all. Now many are afraid to walk the streets at night, afraid their children will become involved in crime and drugs, and worried that their rapidly plummeting incomes will not be able to sustain them when they are old and infirm.

It is certainly strange to contemplate, but the Cold War was in some ways a wonderful time for the Arts in Czechoslovakia, and for music in particular. There was plenty of money to support scholars, performers, and institutions. A budding Janáček scholar could come empty handed to the Brno Center and emerge with arms filled with scores and recordings. Every year at the Brno International Music Festival excellent local orchestras presented fascinating programs for minimal ticket prices. Now the good guys have won and the Arts are in disarray. Prime Minister and conservative economist Václav Klaus believes that artists should be entrepreneurial, that the good ones should thrive and the poor ones should disappear. But we all know that there is only one kind of music today that is truly entrepreneurial and that is popular music, which certainly knows how to sell itself.

The Music Information Center in Brno was a fascinating place where a single determined woman worked day after day to propagate the music of Moravia and keep open networks in times of trouble and possibility, times of darkness and peculiar light. Although the Music Information Center branch in Prague will continue to remain open for the near future, we cannot help feeling as if a strange and wonderful species of fauna has just become extinct, one whose like shall not be seen again.

*   *   *   *   *

EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

Internationally acclaimed Czech double bass performer, composer, and pedagogue, Miloslav Gaydos, accompanied by two former pupils, Jiří Valiček and Ludek Zakopal, will be in Chicago this August 23-24 as guests of the ongoing series of international exchange activities that include performances, symposiums, competitions, research and recording with American double bassist, Greg Sarchet, his respective double bass pupils and participants worldwide.

The goal of this residency is to provide double bass students and professionals, along with string educators, a deeper appreciation of the tremendous Czech double bass heritage that has profoundly influenced American double bass playing.

Anyone who has ever studied the double bass in America has come across the name František Simandl (1840-1912). Few understand the significance of this figure in the lineage of Czech double bass professors that date back to 1811. To this date, The Simandl Method is the single most widely used double bass teaching method in the United States, if not the world. As one continues to study the bass, one comes across many more of these unfamiliar sounding Czech surnames in the literature, yet without any suitable explanation as to why this is the case. These are the missing links in our training that need to be bridged.

What we will witness, through the assistance of the Chicago Artists International Program, is nothing less than the modern-day evolution of the double bass, taking up where it was arrested because of World War II and the ensuing Cold War period. It is hoped that, with this project, the MERIT Music Program (Chicago) will make a significant contribution to the development of this instrument, - in how it is taught, played and even perceived.

For additional information, visit Greg Sarchet's webpage at "http://members.aol.com/Scrtchbox/BassClubChicago.html" or contact him at 01-773-777-6269 (voicemail/fax).

(Submitted by Greg Sarchet)

The Music Department of the University of North Texas (Denton) and the Janáček Akademie of Performing Arts are collaborating on an exchange program that offers opportunities for one-semester and one-year exchanges for university students, educational tours for US faculty and students, a musicology conference, and an exchange program with a performing arts high school in the Czech Republic. Tour groups usually include 12-24 people and are scheduled during the Spring and Fall semesters. Tours may also be organized for Christmas break. If you would like additional information about this collaborative program, contact Dr. Thomas Sovík at the University of North Texas (tsovik@music.unt.edu).

(Submitted by Dr. Thomas Sovík)

addition to the previous notice

The College of Music at the University of North Texas and the Janáček Academy of Music and the Performing Arts (Brno) signed official faculty and student exchange agreements in Fall 1993. Since that time, we have had a number of short-term exchanges of faculty (2 - 3 weeks), plus two full years of student exchanges. In our third year (1997-98), we expect to receive three students from the Janáček Academy (piano performance, guitar performance, theory/composition), and expect to send two University of North Texas students (piano performance, musicology) to study abroad for this year-long exchange. We've always found the Czech students to be wonderful representatives of the Janáček Academy, and have hired one student, Mr. Pavel Wlosok, as a Graduate Teaching Associate in Music Theory for two years. In addition, Pavel is the pianist in the Two O'Clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas -- which means he is one of the top jazz pianists in the United States!

If any member of the society would like information about the exchange program or about ordering one of Pavel's CDs, they can either write to me at the address below or call me directly.

I have also been running "academic/performance tours" to Brno since 1991, open to anyone who wants to accompany the group (i.e., need not be a musician or even associated with any university -- we've taken lots of "moms," spouses, faculty and students from other universities, etc.). It's an opportunity for our faculty and graduate students to give recitals and/or present academic papers in Brno, Prague, Vienna, etc. Plus, the "extra people" can just come along and enjoy the great airfares (we're leaving on October 1, for 13 days, with a round trip airfare of $648.00! on British Airways). Basically, it's a guided tour, with hotels/dorms, wine cellar parties, concert tickets, etc. arranged in advance. It's a great way to travel back to the homeland. If any member of the society might be interested in coming along on one of these adventures (the NEXT TRIP is being planned for April/May), they can contact me directly for information.

Dr. Thomas Sovík, Chairman, Division of Music History, Theory, & Ethnomusicology


        College of Music, P.O. Box 311367, University of North Texas
        Denton, TX 76203-1367
        Phone: 940-565-3748 FAX: 940-565-2002
        E-Mail: tsovik@music.unt.edu

(Submitted by Dr. Thomas Sovík)


SPOTLIGHT ON . . .


PERFORMANCES

NÁRODNÍ DIVADLO

(includes the National, Estates (Stavovské), Kolowrat and State Opera theaters)


THE LISTENING CORNER

Sources:

The Princeton Music Listening Library has a fairly extensive collection of contemporary Czech and Slovak music on LP (Supraphon, Opus, Panton, etc.), not all of which is yet catalogued, and they are willing to lend on Interlibrary Loan. Further details: contact Tom Moore, Music Listening Library, Princeton University ( STMOORE@Princeton.edu ) or visit his homepage at http://www.princeton.edu:80/~stmoore .

(Submitted by Tom Moore)


Test your CZSL Musical Q...............

Who was Carl Richter.....really?

What was the name of the ship that brought Charlotte and Bohuslav Martinů to America?

Which famous Czech composer wrote a work called "The American Flag"?

Which of Smetana's operas contains a "letter-reading'' scene? How does the vocal delivery of the scene differ from the rest of the opera?

Answers will appear in the Fall issue. If you would like to submit questions for the next issue, please send them (with answers please) to jamabary@msn.com.


Other Links

If you have comments or suggestions, contact Judith Mabary at jamabary@msn.com


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