Milan Kundera, 90 today, is our last living link to Janáček

The exiled Czech author grew up in Brno at or around the Janáček Academy where his father, Ludvik, was a professor and, for three years, director. A colleague of Leos Janacek’s at the Brno Academy, Ludvik Kundera made the vocal score of Glagolitic Mass. He may also have played the premieres of several Janáček piano pieces (see Nigel Simeone’s new book, The Janáček Compendium).

Milan describes the music of Janáček in an intensely detailed memoir, ‘My First Love’.

His literary style – naturalism interspersed with aphorism – owes something to the master.

Each leaves a huge footprint in Czech culture.


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  • Janáček’s music is all over the film of The Unbearable Lightness of Being with Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin, and Juliette Binoche. There are exquisite uses of it, such as On the Overgrown Path’s “The barn owl has not flown away” (or whatever English translation) when Franz returns to Sabina’s place and realizes she has packed up and abandoned him. Someone who didn’t know better would think this was a living composer who had written an original score.

  • Thanks for mentioning my book, Norman. One thing it does not say is that Ludvík Kundera was a student of Janáček. This seems to have been one of those things people have accepted over the years (not least because it seems so obvious) without checking if it’s true. The evidence suggests that he really wasn’t a pupil (after secondary school in Brno he studied in Prague – then came back to Brno to teach). He was a colleague of Janáček’s at the Brno Conservatory and they knew each other well, of course. Milan Kundera’s writings on Janáček are remarkable and it would be nice to have all of them in English (I think only one of his essays has appeared in English so far). Incidentally, I’ve had the pleasure of playing Ludvík Kundera’s piano – it belongs to a friend in Brno and it’s a lovely instrument.

    • My pleasure, Nigel. The book is indispensable. I’ll change the thing about him being a student – it’s something they told me years ago in Brno. You know the lovely story about Janacek blowing up over his programme notes to the premiere of Glagolotic Mass?

  • Something I don’t see mentioned is that Ludvik Kundera made several recordings of works by Janacek (around 1949-50), including the first recording of the Capriccio for Left Hand (piano) and winds and the Folk Poetry of Hukvaldy. Supraphon has not issued these on cd, but a download only version is available (áček-Poetry-Hukvaldy-Rhymes-Capriccio/dp/B07F1SGGRR/ref=sr_1_11?keywords=Ludvik+Kundera&qid=1554180220&s=gateway&sr=8-11) and it’s even on most of the major streaming services.

    • Kundera’s recordings, mostly with Bakala, are extremely interesting. As you say, some of them are available as Supraphon downloads – and well worth getting.

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