A maestro’s grave is shamefully neglected

A maestro’s grave is shamefully neglected


norman lebrecht

March 22, 2018


This is the grave of Karel Ancerl, artistic director of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from 1950 to 1968, when he fled the country after the Russian-led invasion.


Ancerl (1908-1973) was brought back for reburial in the exclusive Vysehrad cemetery, near Prague castle. But the headstone on his grave is, as you can see, broken and the surroundings are untended.

Someone needs to raise an outcry.


  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    From Wiki

    “Conducting work for Czechoslovak radio was interrupted by World War II which resulted in his being imprisoned with his family in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942 and then sent to Auschwitz in 1944. Unlike his wife and young son, Ančerl came out of Auschwitz alive.”

    • Malcolm Kottler says:

      This additional information from the same Wikipedia article should be included:

      “He was sent with his family to the Theresienstadt concentration camp (Terezín) on 12 November 1942. There, he became the leader of the Terezín String Orchestra and started to organize cultural and music life in the ghetto.

      “His final performance was for the propaganda film Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (The Führer Gives the Jews a City), directed, under coercion of the camp commandant Karl Rahm, by Kurt Gerron to fool the Red Cross. The film showed Ančerl conducting a work by Pavel Haas on a wooden pavilion, with flowerpots hiding the fact that many of the orchestra were barefoot. The film also featured Martin Roman’s big band, the Ghetto Swingers.

      “As soon as the film was over, Gerron, Ančerl, Haas, Roman and all those who had participated in the film were herded into cattle trucks for the final transport to Auschwitz on 15 October 1944. Ančerl managed to survive Auschwitz, but his wife Valy and son Jan (born in Terezín) perished in the gas chambers.”

    • Jon H says:

      This is why people writing online about forgetting the “dead white guys” in music (and arts) need to stop and do a little more homework.

  • MacroV says:

    I was at the Vysehrad cemetery about two years ago. I don’t recall seeing Ancerl’s grave, but for the most part it is well maintained, with graves of Dvorak, Kubelik, Karel Capek, and other prominent figures. This photo – amid the snow – may just be showing it on a bad day.

    • MacroV says:

      BTW, Vysehrad cemetery is not near Prague Castle. Vysehrad (which means “High Castle”) is on the southern end of “downtown” Prague. It’s “near” in the sense that they’re both in Prague, but they’re not neighbors.

  • JoBe says:

    Ancerl was a genius and among the greatest conductors of the second half of the 20th century. His many recordings for the Supraphon label are testament to that. He was not only great in the Czechoslovak repertoire, which nobody conducted outside of his country (Kabelac, Vycpalek, etc.), but also in the Germanic repertoire, where he had to compete with everybody. His Brahms is better than Bernstein’s, in my opinion!

    • Stuart L. says:

      And his Shostakovitch 10th Symphony is unsurpassed.

      • Bruce W says:

        My whole family heard the 10th on the way home from church in our car in 1955, our discovery of Shostakovitch. We still love the recording, now available on Spotify.

    • ftumschk . says:

      I have many of his recordings, which I’ve enjoyed without exception for many years. Supraphon did the world a favour with their Ančerl Gold edition; every one a gem.

    • Arthur Douglas Wauchope says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I grew up listening to Ancerl and his recordings of the Brahms symphonies, his Shostakovitch, especially the tenth, and his Janacek and Prokofiev were, for me, the greatest of his era.
      His Romeo and Juliet (Prokofiev) was overwhelming in its more ferocious moments, and you will never hear a more committed string section (other than Toscanini’s).

  • Gregg says:

    No. I can’t see it. Because the photos on this site are smaller than stamps. Like it was in 1997

  • Duncan E says:

    Macrov, unfortunately, the photo is not just showing it on a bad day – that is definitely badly broken. The column on the left should be upright with Ancerl’s bust on top. This has obviously fallen and cracked the grave stone on the floor. Vysehrad is a lovely, and well kept cemetery. Let’s hope that the repairs are well in hand.

  • Ralph Sauer says:

    He was my music director at the Toronto Symphony during the last four years of his life. It was such a privilege to learn the repertoire under such a great conductor. At his funeral service, we played Die Moldau but did not play the last two, loud chords.

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      Ralph Sauer: Do tell us more about him!

      • Ralph Sauer says:

        Ancerl was a true gentleman. He had a wide repertoire and was quite good with concertos. (Many top notch conductors are not!) He was with his second wife during his time in Toronto, though I never met her. We spoke about cars once. He bought an Alfa Romeo Spyder and enjoyed driving. We spoke about beer once. Just before he died, a tour to Europe was planned including the complete Ma Vlast. He asked what my favorite beer was, and I said Pilsner Urquell. He responded with “wait until you try Budvar.” Alas, he did not make the tour. When things weren’t going so well in the viola section, for example, he would make the last stand play alone. After a few “Gott in Himmel’s”, he would move to the next stand. He usually gave up after that, but the passage was correct at the next rehearsal. A long time ago, but still memorable.

  • Sharon says:

    Remember the Czech film Kolya about the violin virtuoso during the fall of Communism who was expelled from the Czech symphony during the Communist era and ended up repairing gravestones and playing at funerals?

  • Charles Clark Maxwell says:

    ==violin virtuoso


  • GUSPEPE says:

    By coincidence I’ve recently been re-listening to some of my Ancerl recordings, which include most of the Gold series, among others. He truly was one of the greats and remains under-recognized. His Mahler 1st and 9th take a back seat to none, and he had special touch in virtually all Russian music that he performed, sort of like Ansermet did in his own (and different) way: the Shostakovich as others have mentioned, but also Prokofiev and Mussorgsky, for example. Quite good in Bartok, too, and he also provided outstanding support to concerto soloists. It’s a measure of his greatness that it would be there even if you didn’t count his native Czech repertoire.

  • Wurtfangler says:

    I can only agree with most of the above comments. If I had been aware of Ancerl when I visited Prague as a young man in 1995 I would have made a point of seeking out his burial place. It is indeed a shame that the grave of such a truly great artist is so neglected. He is worth 10 of any of the current crop of media-friendly conductors.

  • I am saddened by this report but ot surprised since Jewish graves all over the world are desecrated by a few vandals and it is hard to expensive to keep up with them. My father and Karel Ancerl were in the camps together with a third friend. After Terezin and Auschwitz (where my father was very briefly; I dont know how long Ancerl was there) they were transported to a work camp, where they were eventually liberated by the Soviet Army. They remained friends after they returned to Prague — unlikely friends because my father was an Olympic water polo player and Karel was a conductor. They had gotten through tough times in part by educating one another about their respective fields. My family left Prague after the Communist take-over of 1948 and I remember Karel visiting us on Riverside Drive in NYC when he conducted at Carnegie Hall. I’ve written about their culture and the sociological background in books you can find through helenepstein.com

  • Paul Davis says:

    Karel Ancerl was, for me, a sort of musical companion thru my teens, by his marvellous Supraphon recordings, mostly with the vintage Czech Phil. I deeply regret not having heard him in concert; he shaped my ideas of ideal interpretations of so much repertoire, obviously the Czechs, but also Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Mahler, Brahms…..the sound stays always in my mind. Altho i’ve visited Prague several times, i’ve never thunk to visit his grave; let’s hope that action is taken to repair the damage and neglect, altho his memorial, for me, will always be the sounds living in my memory.

  • Gordon Hill says:

    Ancerl was a truly great conductor. His time with the Czech Phil made that orchestra into one of the world’s greats and his collaboration with Josef Suk was magical, not just in Dvorak: the Mendelssohn must be one of the great recordings- the musicians play like a chamber group with no sign of the soloist as a “great man”. As for “Petrushka”, have you ever heard a more bustling Shrove tide fair? Supraphon have done us all a favour by carefully remastering those old scratchy recordings of the early 1960s into surprising high quality CDs – the musicianship just shines through .

  • Dilys Page says:

    Glad to be reminded of Karel Ancerl just now by Ed Vulliamy on radio 3 Private Passions – the Adagio Sbostakovich 7.
    Why has Slipped Disc stopped dropping into my inbox? I miss you!

  • Eric Sogge says:

    Has this terrible desecration been put right? Can any Prague resident, or visitor, report?

  • Michael Phillips says:

    I met Karel Ancerl briefly in about 1962 when he brought the Czech Philharmonic on a UK tour . Ther programme at the Victoria Hall Hanley ( Stoke – on -Trent ) was the Bartered Bride overture , fantastic string playing , Dvorak 8 and Beethoven’s Eroica – a thrilling programme . I got his autograph in the interval , he encouraged me to practise EVERY day if I wanted to got on as a musician .He was very kind to a youngster like me . Michael Phillips – Nottingham