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- 5 symphonies: organ, 1974, e flat major, 1982, d major, 1984, e minor with string quartet, 1987, four saisons for organ and orchestra, 2001
- the world carnival, 1983, rur, 1986
- capriccio, concerto for piano trio and orchestra
- recitatives and arias for corno inglese and orchestra, 2004
- methamoforsis for violin solo and strings, 1977
- serenata notturna for strings, 1996
- nocturnalie for woodwindows, 1997
- the waltz across the room – cantate; 1979
- requiem, 1991
- missa con viola obligata, 1998
- 9 strings quartets, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1985, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007
- 3 violin sonatas, 1974, 1978, 1982
- viola sonata, 1990
- cello sonata, 1985
- oboe sonata, 1995
- piano quintet, 1990
- sextet for string quartet, oboe und harp, 1999
- 4 organ sonatas, 1986, 2001, 2003, 2005
- many chamber song cycles
- crescendo, songs for baryton and orchestra, 2002
Many Works in Czech Radio, Supraphon, Panton. Many works recorded also in England, Germany, France. Publications: Many Works in Supraphon, Panton, etc. Comtributions: Hudebni Rozhledy, Prague; Opus Musicum, Brno. Adress: Korunni 67, 13000 Prague, Czech Republic; firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 25, 1950 Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. His father then was sound engineer with Czechoslovak Radio, later held technical office jobs in various industrial companies. Mother was shop-assistant, from childbirth on disability pension.
Autumn 1955 First lessons in piano and music theory, initially private, then, from 1959, at state music school. Music teachers encourage young student´s penchant for composition.
1963 Music school piano professor initiates meeting with Jan Zdeněk Bartoš who teaches composition at Prague Conservatory. During the following three years Bartoš prepares O.K., free of charge, for Conservatory entrance exam. From then O.K. devotes himself systematically to composition (early attempts include sonata for violin, sonata for piano, wind quintet, string quartet, and symphony).
Sept. 1, 1965 Beginning of studies at Prague Conservatory courses of organ and composition. Teachers include Josef Kubáň (organ), Miroslav Raichl, František Kovaříček, J.Z. Bartoš (composition; forms and analysis; instrumentation), Zdeněk Hůla (harmony; counterpoint). During Conservatory studies writes a number of composition studies, apart from that composing “for himself” (typically while on holiday), works including a concerto for piano and orchestra, and another symphony.
Oct. 1, 1969 Enrols for studies at Prague´s Academy of Music, Department of Composition, class of Jiří Pauer (opening term in the class of Emil Hlobil). His compositional thinking of the time, influenced by Classical European music (intensive study of J.S. Bach´s legacy inspired by previous Conservatory “organ-oriented” erudition; on the whole, a tendency to embrace the “Classical” line of Bach – Mozart – Beethoven – Brahms – Dvořák – Tchaikovsky – Franck – Hindemith – Prokofiev – Shostakovich), is newly confronted with study of “Musica Nova.” Simultaneously with composition study, work as performing musician (organ, piano, harpsichord).
1972 Marriage with fellow-student from organ class, Miluška Wagnerová (daughters Eva, b. 1974, and Martina, b. 1977). By then O.K. assumes a more sharply defined standpoint on the future development of his compositional style: namely, while adopting from Musica Nova a number of technical elements (concept of “colour”, so-called aleatory technique, option of loosening time zones assigned to individual voices of musical texture; yet renouncing serial approach, for its reliance on extramusical aspects), he aspires to transplant, by way of synthesis, onto “Classical” approach (involving distinct thematic material in all components; logical, audible harmony; clearly defined formal structure in accord with lucid tectonics, etc.), which he regards as best suited for the realization and, most notably, the impact of his compositional idiom.
1973 Completes studies at Academy of Music, submitting as his degree thesis Symphony for Organ and Orchestra. By then he is already employed as voice coach at the Prague National Theatre opera company. After graduation he engages in extensive compositional activity, often motivated purely by inner creative impulse. Of crucial importance for O.K.´s further development as composer is his involvement in a friendly association of composers of the same generation (Vladimír Tichý, Miroslav Kubička, Pavel Jeřábek, Štěpán Rak, Juraj Filas, Jiří Gemrot, plus occasionally others). The group´s regular meetings offer platform for in-depth study of works of all periods and styles. The outcome of this process is the reaffirmation of O.K.´s pursuit in the line of “synthesis” between Classical style and certain elements of Musica Nova.
1976 After return from yearlong national service (in the Army Art Ensemble), he takes up a job as music director in Czechoslovak Radio. At that time, he earns comparatively early repute as composer, thanks to several prizes from composers contests, as well as to several relatively successful premieres (Piano Trio; Sinfonietta “Metamorphosis,” etc.). O.K.´s works are performed on prestigious Czech platforms (New Compositions Week; Young Platform at Karlovy Vary; Smetana Youth Fest at Litomyšl; and subsequently, Prague Spring; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra´s subscription series); admission as member of Composers´ Union; appointments to various posts connected with organizing Czech music life; commissions from prestigious chamber ensembles for new works which are performed in his home country and internationally; release of O.K.´s compositions on records, and publication of sheet music. His performed works are mostly acclaimed by musicians, audiences and a section of the critical community, while others tend to reject them for the alleged conservatism of the Classical foundation of the composer´s style. Consequently, he proceeds to undertake an introspective reassessment of the underlying principles of his musical thinking. The outcome is a more radical integration of elements from Musica Nova (involving the use of more elaborate means in both melodics and chordal structure, as well as in stylization and compositional structure; all of this, however, without ever renouncing the need for lucid thematic groundwork as the basis of musical message), which is reflected in several compositions dating from around 1980 (String Quartet No. 4; first version of Symphony in E flat major, and others).
1980 From Sept. 1, employed as secretary of the Composers Union. Thereby he obtains further room for compositional work. During the early 1980s, though, he passes through a creative crisis. His latest output then received more warmly by former adversaries (albeit not without reserve), but reception by musicians and audiences becomes much cooler. Most importantly, however, O.K. himself feels frustration at the complexity and “uncommunicativeness” of his works. In a series of smaller-scale compositions, a process of seeking and learning a more straightforward compositional style. The result of this endeavour is a number of chamber compositions, Canival of the World overture, and Symphony in D major. This “old-new” creative approach is encouraged by certain developments in international music: namely, departure of some composers from the “Avant-garde” movement, and the general spread of postmodernist concepts. O.K.´s compositions from the second half of the 1980s are no longer so heavily influenced by the dilemma of choosing a style. The composer reserves for himself the right to use a language of his own choice, coming to regard as the sole yardstick the import and the professional qualities of his output. Works from that period include most notably Symphonic Passacaglia R.U.R.; Symphony for String Quartet and Orchestra; String Quartet No. 5; and large-scale piano cycle, Album.
1990 Radical change of the country´s social structure entails transformation of all institutions which upheld contemporary music productions. Stringent cuts in financial subsidies lead to radical narrowing of the scope of opportunities for new works to assert themselves. Virtually exclusive focus, by organizers and interpreters alike, on “time-tested” repertoire, is tantamount to minimum chances of new works for repeated performance. Financial dire straits lead composers to seek jobs – frequently cumulating more than one –, which in its turn stifles their creative output. In these circumstances, O.K. once again takes up a job in Czechoslovak Radio, as programme manager and music editor. Simultaneously, he starts to teach at Prague Conservatory, initially lecturing in theory of music, then in composition (since 1997 as head of Composition Department). Hitherto relatively abundant repeat performances of O.K.´s works are narrowed down to a mere trickle. His compositional career now takes a twin course: one of its lines consists in the production of small-scale compositions destined for specific occasions; and the other, in the writing of large-scale “idealistic tableaux” without much hope of their immediate performance (e.g., Requiem).
2000 His wife dies; three years later, marriage with Dr Jana Smékalová (long-time programme manager of Supraphon, since 2000 employed at the Jewish Museum in Prague). O.K. writes several larger-scale compositions (Serenatta noturna for String Orchestra; String Quartets Nos. 6 and 7; Sextet for Oboe, Harp and String Quartet; “Four Seasons” Symphony; song cycle, Crescendo), mostly on specific commissions. The character and style of these works are determined by their concept and intended contents. Successful productions of the tableau, Cassandra, in Germany; and of the cycle, Crescendo, in Prague.
An Introductory Note, in a Darker Tone
One of the great Czech composers, Josef Bohuslav Foerster, wrote at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries that the composer resembles a flower-girl selling her produce in the street: she offers to passersby beauty and relish, and yet most of them walk past her without ever noticing, and the flowers meanwhile keep withering. I fear that today´s composer of the so-called serious or classical music faces an even more frustrating situation. Let´s leave aside for now the question of whether such a composer has only beauty and relish to offer (for I believe this is in most cases not so). What, then, is his or her status?
Surrounded on all sides by an omnipresent pop music whose artistic sights are typically set fairly low and which is characterized by all sorts of wheeling and dealing and by lack of concern with a true depth of expression, the contemporary classical music is languishing on the fringes of public interest, confined to tiny, sorely underfinanced communities. Many professionally trained composers have already resigned themselves to this state of affairs and write only very sparingly, if at all. Others carry on grappling with their condition, striving to break out of the vicious circle. Surprisingly enough, the question why newly composed classical music has got into this situation, is being raised by only few. Some composers – mostly those who tend to regard their output as avant-garde – remain self-assured, notwithstanding the grimness of the whole scene, preferring to explain away the lack of interest in their work by the absence of the audience´s erudition, the conservativeness of interpreters who remain obstinately set in their way of performing over and over again the classic repertoire, and occasionally also by the action of political powers, either those of the past, or present ones. Their attitude towards the section of the public taking to the huge body of classical music, from Palestrina through Britten, is not too far from disdainful.
Now to me personally, this particular section of the audience appears to be quite crucial. Regular symphonic and chamber music concertgoers, customers buying CDs with classical music, listeners of radio and television stations specializing in serious art broadcasts – all of these have accumulated enough auditive experience to recognize safely, even without previous professional training, authentic value in a work of music. To me they are true connoisseurs much rather than being either snobs, as they are often branded by champions of the popular genres in art, or staunch conservatives, as they are labelled, for a change, by diehard proponents of the “avant-garde” movements.
It is exactly this kind of audience that I have aspired all life through to write music for. Myself a listener to music and a hard-working student of sheet music of all periods and styles, I have gradually become acquainted with the complete repertoire of European music – an experience thanks to which I am now perhaps able to compare one thing or another. Therefore today I cannot but identify with the listener who loves the finest works of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and others, while keeping more of a distance from a good deal of 20th-century music. To be sure, works from the above-listed composers happen to be simply better handled, more accomplished, more inventional, down to the last detail. Their musical contents are thoroughly lucid, with each facet in its proper place... What a world of difference from the boundless, essentially improvisational, often ear-plucking mass of sound of indistinct musical content characteristic for so much of contemporary production.
Throughout the 20th century, art kept continually experimenting. This process involved both a noble search for all imaginable innovative approaches to the language of music, and pranks set on sending up the audience, an endless chase after novelty without at the same time consolidating the newly found through an evolutionary step-by-step sequence; as well as a condescending attitude manifested by composers of such music, accompanied by medial massaging of the public in favour of music which was indeed new, yet which was fairly often either watered down at core or not elaborated in depth, in texts penned by writers whose gift to understand music was more often than not bitterly inadequate – with the passage of years, all of this has yielded its inevitable fruits: namely, ever fewer listeners have been ready and willing to accept this kind of experimental music. What more, their mistrust has eventually passed on to all newly composed music, including those works which aspire to deliver a message formulated in an intelligible, accessible idiom.
The question of applied musical language has been the most frequented issue in the course of a substantial part of my professional career as a composer. As will follow from my brief creative biography, I have done my best to deal with this issue with maximum honesty. The clash between my innermost “classical” musical thinking on the one hand, and the demand of a part of the specialist circles for a “modernization” of my musical idiom, has been immense. In my endeavours for a synthesis of the groundwork of my compositional thinking with impulses coming from Musica Nova, I have omitted virtually none of the tendencies associated with the latest innovations in music. In the process, I have accepted more from some of those sources, less from others, and there are things I have not accepted at all... I have seen in my efforts a parallel with that which was exemplified, say, by Shostakovich in his late output (which I have listened to with fascination). Of course I have realized that my attitude places me out of the bounds of many a platform deemed prestigious by most composers. My reward for this has been a number of fine performances of my works in classical music concerts, sympathies of interpreters whom I have respected as the most authoritative professional colleagues, and also, warm reception by the audience.
Today I have ceased to care in the least about how someone or another will judge my music from the viewpoint of style. Personally, I consider the argument that the only correct and viable line of style development to be embraced by the contemporary composer is that charted by Schoenberg – Webern – Darmstadt, and onward, to ignore reality, and to epitomize orthodox intolerance. For where would this kind of reasoning place such composers, ever more copiously performed, as Shostakovich, Poulenc, Britten, Gershwin, Bernstein, and others? Does not the fact of ever more frequent productions of these composers´ works actually document that the much coveted theory of the “only correct avant-garde” line has failed to prove its validity in practice? There exist books, compendiums of music, CD anthologies, wherein the likes of Poulenc, Gershwin or Bernstein are mentioned only marginally or not at all. Here and there they are pigeonholed with contempt as uninteresting, problemmatic, regressive, even possibly harmful to the further development of music.
The above labels have been stuck to my work as well. I cannot say it has always left me unimpressed, and yet eventually I have reached a point where I am able to view this issue with a sense of detachment. In my Requiem of 1991, I set the focus on a quotation from the Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. For every deed will be brought into judgement.” In this, I see the manifestation of a standpoint: Here I am, submitting my ideas, my musical imagery, in the belief that at least a handful of minds and hearts will be found who will try sincerely to understand what I have striven to say, and why I have done it in this particular way.