Monday, August 22, 2011: Flower of Brno

Czech Composers Also Flower in Brno

Many people curious to learn about classical music immediately think of Prague as “the” only place to go. However, international attention is now slowly turning towards other Czech cities, including the southeastern Moravian city of Brno.

That’s the home of the Janáček Academy of Music (JAMU), and Janáček himself lived, taught, and composed in Brno for much of his life.

But now the world is starting to catch on to the fact that there’s another composer to include in any discussion on the flowering of Czech music from Brno.

The composer is Vitěslava Kapralová. Because of her intensive output during her short life, though, she might be more accurately compared to a comet.

Vitěslava Kapralová at 20

The daughter of a classically-trained mother and famous-composer father (Václav Kaprál), Vitěslava began writing music at age nine, in 1924, guided by her father. As a teenager she studied composition and conducting at the Brno Conservatory, where she graduated in 1935 at the top of her class. She conducted her own piano concerto at its Brno premiere that year.

She moved on to studies at the Prague Conservatory, where her masterclasses were taught by the composer Vítezslav Novák and the conductor Václav Talich. Here she experimented with impressionist and expressionist styles, and for her 1937 graduation created a composition, Military Sinfonietta, for large orchestra. She conducted the Czech Philharmonic’s performance of it herself at Lucerna Hall. She was 22.

It’s no surprise, then, that the chance to study in Paris was an offer too good for the young woman to pass up. Her education went beyond theory classes and music scores; she began a mentor relationship with the composer Bohuslav Martinů. He had her conduct his Harpsichord Concerto in Paris in 1938, and scholars today are still discussing who was the greater inspiration for whom in the relationship.

Two weeks later she opened a London music festival by conducting her Military Sinfonietta to critical acclaim.

At the beginning of World War II Kapralová remained in France and continued composing. In 1940, she married Jiří Mucha (son of the Czech Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha), but in June that year, died of an illness, at age 25.

During her life she composed more than 40 works, including several art songs for the concert hall, and solo instrumental pieces, for which she is highly regarded. In 1946 she was made a posthumous member of the prestigious Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts, at that time one of only 10 women in the 600+ membership, and the only female musician.

Only since the 1990s have music publishers and researchers started systematically documenting and publishing all her works. In 1998 not in Brno but in Toronto, the Kapralová Society was established to revive interest in her life and work. – oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top, Mary Matz; Vitěslava Kapralová, The Kapralová Society

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