Tuesday, February 14, 2012:Love Story
Although some musicologists regard Viktor Kalabis (1923-2006) as the most influential Czech composer of the second half of the 20th century, the world didn’t start to know his name and his music until the fall of the communist regime.
Symphonies, concertos, two ballet scores, and nearly 100 opuses, as well as compositions for the piano and other instruments, came from this single Czech composer who loved music enough to endure many hardships.
At the beginning, his life followed the trajectory of nearly every musically gifted child during the First Czechoslovak Republic. He was performing on the piano at the age of six and then moved to Prague to study composition at the Conservatory. Though the Nazi occupation in 1939 interrupted his schooling, Mr Kalabis continued his musical activities and after the war, resumed his studies. He took on composition at the Academy of Performing Arts as well as music and philosophy at the Faculty of Arts.
His musical career was cut short, however, by the new communist regime. His adamant refusal to join the party as well as his doctoral thesis on Stravinsky, deemed as decadent, put the composer on the black list and left him essentially unemployable.
He was rescued by Czech Radio, which in 1953 offered him the post of director and dramaturge of the children’s music program. Mr Kalabis prepared and directed music programs and managed to smuggle bits of music from contemporary composers such as Petr Eben and Ilja Hurník onto the air. His new post also inspired him to create the Concertino Praga, an international competition for young musicians.
In the meantime, Mr Kalabis kept on composing. Mr Kalabis’ work has been described as modernist music with a compelling sense of inner order and logic, and his first major breakthrough came in 1957 when his Concerto for Violoncello, Opus 8 was performed in Paris. His other major works include Symphony No. 3, written in the aftermath of the Russian invasion, and his unique string quartets. Many of his works were commissions; his patrons included the Dresden and the Czech philharmonics, and even Josef Suk. In 1972 he left the radio to dedicate himself fulltime to composition.No biography of Viktor Kalabis would be complete without mentioning his wife, pianist and harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková. Their more than five decade marriage and musical partnership started when Viktor took piano classes with Zuzana. He wrote many compositions for her, and she started a foundation promoting his work, after his death in 2006.
You have more than just one great chance to hear Mr Kalabis’ works performed live. The upcoming concerts of the Prague Symphony Orchestra Feb 15 and 16 feature Mr. Kalabis’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, No 1, Opus 17. Miroslav Vilímec, concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic, will be performing.
The composer’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, No 2, Opus 64 will be offered Mar 15 and 16 by the Czech Philharmonic, with Jiří Kollert performing. — oo
– Zuzana Sklenková
Photo Credits: Top: Viktor Kalabis-Zuzana Růžičková website, 1960 photo; bottom, Zuzana Růžičková website, updated photo