Opera in Nazi-occupied Prague

Opera in Nazi-occupied Prague


norman lebrecht

June 07, 2020

Our new partners at operaplus.cz have come up with a lost recording of Vaclav Talich conducting Smetana’s Libuse, just before the Nazis banned Czech operas.

Thrilling stuff.

Listen here.



  • Czech Strong says:


    Thank you Norman!

  • fflambeau says:

    Talich had an amazing background: concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, conducting student of the great Arthur Nikisch, arrested by the Communists for Nazi collaboration (not proven) etc.

  • fflambeau says:

    Perhaps the worst Nazi of all, R. Heydrich, took over as “Protector of Bohemia” when Talich was in Prague.

  • fflambeau says:

    Oddly enough, the “Protector of Bohemia” until he was assassinated in 1942 was the ruthless Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich, who was a formidable violinist himself. His dad had opened a school for muscicians in Germany and was an accomplished player. I believe Hitler called Heydrich “the man without a heart” and the death camps were part of “Operation Reinhard”!

    I wonder what Heydrich, who was very much feared, made of Talich? Perhaps he wasn’t that hostile given Heydrich’s expertise on the violin. On the other hand, he was a Czech.

  • fflambeau says:

    I’ve done a little research on Talich, who should be celebrated.

    One writer notes that after R. Heydrich, the Nazi in charge of Bohemia was assassinated, Talich was forced to take an oath of obediance to the Nazis.

    See Thomas Vados, “Martinu’s Subliminal States” at https://books.google.co.th/books?id=9r11DwAAQBAJ&pg=PA64&lpg=PA64&dq=did+heydrich++talich+concerts+in+Prague&source=bl&ots=8loLrmtKTm&sig=ACfU3U0oEJgZJx-R-pJE3_6tkJ5Zl2rMsQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj5nZWdlfHpAhWSyzgGHeURA68Q6AEwCXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=did%20heydrich%20%20talich%20concerts%20in%20Prague&f=false

    By the way, the Talich Quartet was founded in 1964 by Jan Talich, Sr., this Talich’s nephew.

  • fflambeau says:

    It appears to be a “mixed case” according to Talich’s Czech biographer, Jiří Křesťan:

    “At the start of the war, concerts and musical productions conducted by Václav Talich often turned into veritable manifestations of Czech patriotism. The works of Smetana, Dvořák and Suk that he insisted on placing in his repertoire aroused thunderous applause and at the end, the Czech public often sang the national anthem. But over time the Nazi vice tightens and Talich, who wishes to continue his activities, is forced to contact the German occupier. Soon, he forced him into activities and words that would end up compromising him in the eyes of his compatriots. In 1940, Václav Talich was part of a delegation of representatives of Czech culture who went to Germany. In Prague, he meets the German Minister in charge of People’s Education and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels or even directs the Czech Philharmonic during a tour in Germany.

    Photo: Supraphon
    Photo: Supraphon
    After the attack on the protector of the Reich Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, the occupier took vengeance. Hundreds of people are executed, the villages of Lidice and Ležáky are razed and reprisals also affect the Czech cultural scene. In the atmosphere of fear hanging over the country, and during a ceremony at the Prague Municipal House, Talich reads a speech in which he calls for collaboration with the Reich and praises Adolf Hitler. This hurtful speech for many Czech patriots will not be forgotten. In his book, Jiří Křesťan demonstrates the mechanisms of power that led Václav Talich to such humiliation:

    “People found themselves in situations where after having accepted a first compromise, it was difficult for them to refuse to continue. We must note that the speech given by Václav Talich at the Prague Municipal House during the presentation of the State Prizes after the attack on Reinhard Heydrich, speech in which he speaks of recognition towards the Third Reich and the will of his to engage in the building of the new Nazi paradise, must have been horrible to hear for the people. But we must also take into account the situation in which this was said. ”

    Source: (translated from French)

  • JohnG says:

    Have you ever heard the stunning Ma Vlast conducted by Talich with the Czech Philharmonic and recorded live on 5 June 1939 (i.e. a couple of months after the Nazi invasion)? Supraphon issued it in 2011, complete with the original radio introductions. The audience response is extraordinary, increasingly frenzied after each movement, so that it becomes in effect a political demonstration. At the end the audience breaks spontaneously into the national anthem. It’s overwhelming. An extraordinarily vivid document.

    • Talich fan says:

      He was brilliant. There is also a 1929 studio recording, thrilling in a different way.

      For most collectors the 1954 studio recording will be the most suitable — everyone should have a Talich Má vlast — but in a Supraphon issue. (Naxos tried to enhance the sound and created an unnatural glare that to these ears is unlistenable.)

      • Brettermeier says:

        “For most collectors the 1954 studio recording will be the most suitable — everyone should have a Talich Má vlast — but in a Supraphon issue.”

        I was not familiar with this recording. Thank you, it is indeed a great recording!

      • Greg Bottini says:

        I have that 1929 recording, and it is indeed thrilling.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Thank you very much for bringing to our attention this precious document .

      I suppose its post-war counterpart is the 1990 Prague Spring Ma Vlast, under an elderly Rafael Kubelik who returned to the the Czech Republic after a 42 year absence. It’s impossible to see and hear this with a dry eye, especially the initial ovation to the great conductor. President Vaclav Havel’s entry and the Libuse fanfare.

      • Talich fan says:

        Petros, you won’t like to read this, but there is no comparison between the qualities Talich brings to this music and the efforts of his later compatriot.

  • Milena Grenfell-Baines says:

    Interesting you should be writing about Vaclav Talich still reviled by a number of Czech music lovers.
    Do you have a book called One Hundred Miracles – a memoire of my cousin Zuzana Ruzickova – read page 47/48
    Do you remember coming to Prague with the Liverpool Phil – must be soon after Libor began to take the Phil to the then Czechoslovakia because I remember you….

    • norman lebrecht says:

      My dear Milena, of course I remember you. I didn’t go to Prague with the RLPO; I met them and you by chance in Brno, where I was conducting research in 1987 or 1988. So nice to hear from you. I hope you are keeping well. Norman