Wednesday, February 8, 2012: Meet Mr Eben

Petr Eben

Petr Eben

Meet Mr Eben

The Eben Trio chose piano trios by Haydn and Martinů for its performance at the 2010 Winners of the Martinů Competition in January. But they really enjoy playing the challenging Piano Trio by Petr Eben. This piece has brought them great success, “Plus Mrs. Ebenová loves it when we play it,” says Eben Trio pianist Terezie Fialová with a smile.

So, just who was Petr Eben?

This contemporary composer born in 1929 will be remembered with Czech icons such as Martinů and Dvořák, some enthusiasts believe. Moreover, the story of his personal life reads like a great film – and inspires listeners as well as musicians such as the Eben Trio.

Petr Eben grew up in Český Krumlov, and thanks to World War II, was pressed into filling the shoes of the town’s St Vitus organist. Those were indeed large shoes to fill; in the beginning the young organist’s feet couldn’t even reach the pedalboard.

He also played the cello in a piano trio with his father and brother. (This emphasis on family would be continued many years later, as his three sons are today known for their folksinging trio and work in the media.) Although it was a committed Catholic family, Mr Eben’s father was Jewish. So in 1943, Petr Eben was expelled from school and suddenly found himself transported to Buchenwald. There, he grasped his brother’s hand as they both were led to the “shower room,” fully expecting the gas. Out came water.

Petr Eben, Eban Trio

The Eben Trio performing Jan 11 at The Rudolfinum

As you can imagine, this moment had a lasting impact on Mr Eben. Faith and hope cannot be killed, he later commented, and the spirit cannot be defeated by external events.

After the war he returned to school, graduating from the Prague Academy of Music, and in 1955 was appointed a lecturer at Charles University in the history of music. But it was a dead-end job, because he refused to join the Communist Party, to openly stop attending the Catholic church with his family, and to write politically-correct music. The opportunity to teach in England in 1977-78 allowed him to develop an audience abroad, and after the Velvet Revolution he began to enjoy further international recognition and awards.

Despite the challenges which could have made anyone bitterly stop producing music, almost until his passing in 2007 Mr Eben continued composing, producing vocal, choral, symphonic, piano, organ, and chamber works, and works for children.

Today you can find his works on many concert programs, performed by musicians such as the young Eben Trio, founded only in 2003 yet inspired by his life and his music. The Trio (Terezie Fialová, piano, Markéta Vrbková, cello, and Roman Patočka, violin) carries Mr Eben’s name abroad in international festivals and competitions; and their US debut in Washington and New York is scheduled in March. — oo

– Baia Dzagnidze, with Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top: A Tempo Revue; bottom: Zdeněk Chrapek

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