Tuesday, October 18, 2011:Search for Meaning

Reading a book about the search for meaning gave birth to Mr Kabát's string quartet

The Search for Meaning

If the unimaginable happened to you – you were detained in a political prison facing death – how would you cope?

One survivor developed an entire theory about it and made a lasting contribution to survival literature and to psychology. Another, much younger man, a Czech, has never been a political prisoner, but he’s written a string quartet about it.

Jiří Kabát, 27, is the composer of Smyčcový Kvartet č 1, ‘Et lux in tenebris lucet.’ His specific inspiration for this String Quartet No. 1 came from reading psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s book about his own survival at Terežín and later at Auschwitz and part of Dachau. The book is called A Přeci Řici Životu Ano in Czech (later in English, Man’s Search for Meaning); Mr Kabát read it during his seven-week summer school at the Meadowmount Music School, New York, for accomplished young string players.

“The title of my quartet is actually part of the book,” Mr Kabát tells Opus Osm. “For me it describes the mood of the book the best. The main thought both of the book and of the quartet is to find positives even in negative circumstances.”

He says his piece was inspired by the first part of the book, Dr Frankl’s memoirs of the camps, where his mother, father, and pregnant wife all eventually died.

Jiří Kabát

“Obviously, there is no way, I hope, we can ever experience concentration camps as Frankl did,” the young violist continues. “However, I tried to put those extremes in this piece.”

His string quartet features several tempo changes and mood changes which make a lasting impression. “Those are mostly there because of the shocks that people in concentration camps had to experience,” he explains.

“It starts very calmly, sadly, but then it becomes even worse. They realize this is no work camp!” he says, referring to the death camps.

He continues, “This is quickly changed for nice positive music of memories about ‘the good old days.’ The psychiatrist even refused to admit his wife might be dead. He thought about her and how they were going to be together very often.”

Frankl wrote that as soon as somebody exchanged his daily ration of bread for someone else’s daily ration of tobacco, Frankl knew the man was going to pass away very soon.

“He never permitted himself to think about his end,” Mr Kabát says. “ ‘Et lux in tenebris lucet’ in all places and all days … .”
You can hear the piece performed live by the Vlach Quartet (Vlachovo Kvarteto Praha) and its violist Mr Kabát in concert Oct 25. It’s part of the Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK) Chamber Music Series at the Church of St Simon and St Jude. – oo

– Mary Matz

About Jiří Kabát

He has played the violin since the age of five, and changed to the viola in 2003. A graduate of The Prague Conservatory, and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD), Glasgow, he earned a Master’s of Music degree there in 2006. Mr Kabát has been a member of the Vlach Quartet Prague since 2010 and the chamber group Barocco Sempre Giovane. As a soloist he has appeared with numerous orchestras, has won several international competitions, and has recorded for television and radio. In 2010 he received 3rd prize in the First Antonín Dvořák Intl. Composition Competition, which was reported on in Opus Osm last October.

Photo Credits: Jiří Kabát

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