Muses at the Mozarteum

Mozarteum, originally a publishing house, provided the venue for a Mar 15th concert touching on several of the fine arts.

Mozarteum, originally a publishing house, provided the venue for a Mar 15th concert touching on several of the fine arts.

An extraordinary concert at the Mozarteum brings together architecture, art, literature, and of course, beautiful music — by a composer with a “difficult” reputation.

Prague’s Mozarteum was the setting Mar 15 for a concert evoking several muses. Mozarteum, built in the geometric modernist style in 1913 as a publishing house, first inaugurated its concert hall with an appearance by Emmy Destinn, according to music historian/speaker Dr Vlasta Reittererová.

But this evening’s program featured works for violin and piano by the famously “difficult” Josef Bohuslav Főerster (1859-1951), and one by Ervín Schulhoff (1894-1942). Short writings by Főerster himself — he worked for many years in Vienna as a music critic and journalist — were read by recitátor Alfred Strejček, a voice well-known to Czech Radio listeners. Originally, mezzo-soprano Olga Černá also planned to perform this night, but a sore throat kept her from singing.

The concert opened with pianist Daniel Wiesner performing the light, cheerful Träumereien, Op 47 (1898). “I particularly admire the impression of lightness Főerster brings in his expression,” Mr Wiesner tells Opus Osm.

However, he adds, he’s “always amazed” how the composer can bring so many different moods and contrasts to even a short work such as this.

Getting to Know JB Főerster: Either you like him or you don’t, says his reputation.
“The reason is perhaps that many musiciaFőersterns don´t really know this music,“ mezzo-soprano Olga Černá says; “Főerster is not common during studies. Even the songs also need a certain maturity.” She has performed Főerster works in concert and for Czech Radio, and recommends newbies start with recordings of Főerster’s violin concertos, the symphonies, the orchestral suite Cyrano de Bergerac, and chamber music — the string quartets, piano trios, and piano solos. There’s plenty to choose from.

Surprising Range of Emotions
Mr Wiesner showed his breath-taking mastery of Főerster’s Notturno Fantastico, Op 142 for Left Hand (1930). Főerster wrote the piece for pianist Otakar Hollman, who had lost his right hand in WWI.

“Playing with the left hand always brings specific difficulties,” the pianist explains. In Notturno Fantastico the left hand must cover the full range of the keyboard, “which brings with it a large number of jumps, and in some way also a certain instability of the whole body,” he reveals.

No instability of any kind was apparent this evening.

Főerster, with Strings Attached

Jana Vonáškova-Nováková and Daniel Wiesner prepare for their presentation of challenging works by JB Foerster.

Jana Vonáškova-Nováková and Daniel Wiesner prepare for their presentation of challenging works by JB Foerster.


Violinist Jana Vonášková-Nováková joined Mr Wiesner for the demanding and beautifully-rendered Főerster composition, Ballata, Op 92 from 1914.

“You have to understand the music you are going to play, the circumstances about the piece and the composer,” she tells us. “I understood the Ballata is full of emotions, full of mood changes.”

The evening concluded with a down-to-the-bones version of Főerster’s Der Tor und der Tod, Op 75 (The Fool and Death), with recitátor Strejček. Remarkably, until this concert cycle, it had been performed only once before — in 1930, as a full orchestra version at Prague Conservatory.

But tonight’s offering, with only piano, violin, and narrator, was still successful. The program book’s libretto in both the German and Czech languages, and its illustrative artwork, added more arts to help the audience’s understanding of this somewhat difficult composer.

Mrs Vonášková-Nováková says, “I think JB Főerster is still waiting for ‘discovery.’ His music is not easy to listen to. He is quite complicated for the audience as well as for the performers. But also he is full of passion and dramatics.”

You can hear mezzo-soprano Olga Černá and pianist Daniel Wiesner in a concert of Czech composers including Főerster, on Sun, Apr 20 at 5 pm at Zámek Štiřín, Kamenice. — oo

– Mary Matz, editor of Opus Osm

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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