November 18, 2009 by Norman Lebrecht
Simon Mawer’s reflective novel The Glass Room, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and one of my reads of the year, digresses midway into a sub-story about a shortlived composer.
Vitezlava Kapralova, born in 1915 in Janacek’s town, Brno, was a star pupil of the conductor Vaclav Talich and, in Paris, of the composer Bohuslav Martinu, whose lover she became (Martinu, though married, had two or three long-term liaisons, but that’s another story).
In 1937, Kapralova conducted the Czech Philharmonic and, a year later, the BBC Symphony Orchestra in her own Military Sinfonietta. She married Jiri Mucha, the Jugendstil painter’s son in April 1940 and, forced to flee Paris after the German invasion, died of tuberculosis in Montpellier two months later, aged 25.
Her music, edgy and mildly adventurous, fell into disuse. You can hear samples (and see a picture of her) here. The only CD recording appeared last year on Koch.
There is, however, a rare chance to hear her Partita for piano and string orchestra live in Marylebone, London, tomorrow night (Helios Chamber Orchestra), and her string quartet in Gateshead next week (Skampa Quartet). The first is a UK premiere and free Czech beer is promised to those attending. Details here.
Kapralova’s is a singular voice, precocious and secure. If you admired Mawer’s novel as much as I did you will want to investigate its unofficial soundtrack.
Late extra: Victor Eskenasy has just sent me a picture of the spot where Martinu met Kapralova. I shall try to upload it here.
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