Although I had studied in Prague with František Pošta in the late 1980s and had amassed a wealth of Czech double bass music and knowledge, the name of Rudolf Tuláček was completely unknown to me until 1994, fifty years after his death. His works for double bass had never been published, and the lack of a paper trail probably resulted in his name not being better known in the wider double bass community. The more I researched his life and music, the more I realized what an amazing person he must have been. After Rudolf Tuláček died in 1954, Jan Kenc, a composer and former President of the Brno Academy of Music, wrote to his widow:
I liked him very much because he was not only an excellent and exemplary professor, very meticulous and conscientious but also an immensely good person, mild and quiet, who never harmed anybody and who was loved by everybody who met him.
Rudolf Tuláček was born on 25 July 1885 in Jičín, Bohemia, described in travel guides as “the fairytale city of Jičín, with its defining red roof on the city gate, is one of the most picturesque cities in the Czech Republic.” He showed outstanding musical talent from an early age and studied violin from the age of six, flute at ten, and the following year began his double bass studies. Jičín had a lively and thriving musical life, not only operatic, theatrical, and operetta companies performed there, but also some of the leading musicians of the day such as František Ondříček (1857 – 1922), Jan Kubelík (1880 – 1940), and Jaroslav Kocián (1883 – 1950). At the age of twelve, Rudolf became a double bassist of the Jičín Municipal Orchestra and in 1901 traveled to Prague to study double bass at the Conservatoire with František Černý (1861 – 1940). He also studied piano alongside theory, harmony, and counterpoint, but his studies were interrupted when his father became ill, and he has to teach to earn a living. His professor came to the rescue, and Rudolf was engaged in teaching music education to Černý’s children. He subsequently graduated in 1907, playing Geissel’s Concerto in his public recital, and his graduation diploma stated that his musical talent was “excellent” and his mastery of the double bass was “superior.”
For two years, he worked in the Municipal Orchestra in Královské Vinohrady, a district of Prague, and in 1909 left for Zagreb (Croatia), where he was appointed solo double bass in the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, also teaching in the city. He soon became well-known amongst music lovers in Zagreb and gave many solo performances, often accompanied on the piano by his wife, performing music by Černý, Dvořák, Geissel, Kukla, Láska, Mišek, Simandl, Tenaglia alongside his own compositions. In 1937 Rudolf Tuláček and his family moved to Brno, where he was appointed Professor of Double Bass at the Academy of Music, also teaching piano there for some time.
In Brno, Tuláček was able to develop and further his teaching skills and taught many excellent bassists who went on to play in leading Czech and Slovak orchestras, including the Czech Philharmonic and also the Czech Nonet and many theatre and radio orchestras. In 1948, thanks to his outstanding teaching abilities, he was appointed Professor of Double Bass at the newly established Janáček Academy of Music, where he successfully directed the double bass department until his death on 17 September 1954. His teaching program was based on František Černý’s Method alongside studies by Simandl, Kreutzer, Gregora, and Josef Hrabě and his own technical exercises and studies in double-stops.
Rudolf Tuláček composed a number of works for double bass, dating from 1903 to 1953, most written during the 1940s in Brno, and all demonstrate a lyrical and cantabile approach, typical of the salon and characteristic music of the early years of the 20th-century, but his Scherzo and Concerto in C# minor also display a technical bravura and flair, requiring an advanced technical command of the entire instrument. His music was described by Professor Krtička on the first anniversary of his death:
Tuláček’s double bass compositions are unique in their professional quality, and they show a lyrical warmth in their rendition. The noble profile of an artistically uncompromising artist who lives at the same time in harmony with his heart and has almost no equal anywhere permeates his compositions; he is kind to anybody who is good and seeks instruction or information, but he is uncompromising wherever purity of rendition was endangered by shortcomings caused by negligence.
Dr. Emilie Balátová (1926 – 2005), Rudolf Tuláček’s only daughter recalled that her father “devoted all his life to the double bass — his only private hobbies were photography and traveling — he liked old castles, chateaux and historic buildings. Though he suffered from arteriosclerosis and anemia during the last years of his life, he didn’t have any rest. He played the double bass until his last breath…”
Tuláček’s Three Pieces (3 skladby) for double bass and piano were composed in Zagreb between 1919 and 1926 and were brought together by the composer as a set, but there is no indication of when he did this.
- Ukolébavka (Lullaby-Berceuse) was composed in 1919, is in ternary form, and is lyrical and effective, displaying the sonorous and cantabile qualities of the double bass. A gently rocking piano accompaniment underpins the slow-moving solo melody, and a more dramatic middle section is framed by music of simple beauty and style.
- Miniaturní valčík (Valse Miniature) was composed in 1926 and is the most adventurous of the three. The music is elegant and accessible, also dramatic and adventurous, requiring a bassist who is secure and confident in the higher register. The accompaniment is simple and supportive, sliding through a range of keys but ending with the opening music, which brings the music to a successful conclusion.
- Píseň lásky (Chant d’amour) was composed in 1920 and is the most romantic and salon-like of the three pieces. The melody is gloriously lyrical and sentimental, contrasting a more animated middle section, again emphasizing the cantabile qualities of the double bass, but allied to an excellent technical command of the instrument. The accompaniment is bigger, exploring more colors and timbres than the other pieces, and could easily have been written during the last years of the 19th-century.
All three pieces are bass-friendly, effective, and playable, offering much to performers and audiences alike. The musical style is a little out of date today, but the quality of the music still shines through, and there is nothing wrong with nostalgic music from another age. Rudolf Tuláček was obviously a very fine player, to judge from his compositions, and these pieces were written with skill, expertise, and heart. Here is salon music of the highest quality and music which deserves its place in our repertoire today.
In 1994 I played in a concert in Oxford with the Czech violinist, Tomáš Tuláček, and he mentioned that his great-uncle Rudolf Tuláček had written a number of works for double bass. I was intrigued and asked if it was possible to obtain copies, and Tomáš said that, in over twenty years of talking about the music to bassists, I was the first to show any interest.
I wrote to Dr. Emilie Balátová-Tuláčková, Tomáš’s aunt, who had been an eminent Czech botanist and vegetation scientist, and we maintained regular contact by letter until she died in 2005. Dr. Balátová was so pleased that someone was interested in the music of her father and was very helpful in providing copies of the music alongside photographs and biographical information. We only met once, at her apartment in Brno in 2003, when I was the UK juror at the Brno International Double Bass Competition at the Janáček Academy of Music. We spent a few hours together, and she was a wonderful and charming company, although in declining health, but made me so welcome, and our meeting is a memory I will treasure.