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Kuchynka @ 150

Abstract:

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Vojta Kuchynka’s birth unveils a journey into the forgotten melodies of this Czech double bassist and composer, resurrected from obscurity by František Pošta. Kuchynka, born in Nové Strašecí in 1871, studied under Vendelin Sládek and Antonín Dvořák at the Prague Conservatoire, becoming a renowned soloist and composer. Despite his virtuosity, Kuchynka’s legacy faded over time, saved from oblivion by Pošta’s advocacy.

Commemorating Kuchynka’s 150th birthday involves collaborative efforts to unveil unpublished works and create performing editions, igniting a revival of his artistry. The global bass community is actively engaged, and the upcoming CD, “The Bohemian Bassist,” featuring Duncan Honeybourne and others, promises to amplify Kuchynka’s voice in the 21st century. The initiative aims to bring overlooked compositions to light, with the internet era facilitating global collaboration.

The concerted global efforts are yielding results, with a growing enthusiasm for Kuchynka’s elegant, stylish, and virtuosic compositions. The forthcoming CD, along with ongoing initiatives, ensures Kuchynka’s melodies resonate in the modern era. The 2021 anniversary serves as a catalyst, reigniting interest in a composer whose contributions to double bass literature demand recognition.

In conclusion, the celebration of Vojta Kuchynka’s 150th birth anniversary marks a significant milestone in resurrecting the legacy of this overlooked Czech double bassist and composer. Collaborative efforts and initiatives within the global bass community promise to propel Kuchynka’s compositions into the spotlight, honoring his rich legacy in the ever-evolving narrative of double bass music.

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ISSN: 2792-8349

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International Journal of Music

The name of Vojta Kuchynka would have long ago been consigned to the history books without the advocacy and promotion of his music by the great František Pošta (1919 – 1991). Professor Pošta recorded Canzonetta and Desire, also performing both works in many national and international recitals, and every two years gave a recital of Kuchynka’s music, amongst another Czech repertoire, in Kuchynka’s home town of Nové Strašecí. Kuchynka is part of the rich heritage of Czech double bassists who performed as soloists and composed many fine works for the double bass but, on the whole, is almost forgotten today.

Vojtěch (Vojta) Kuchynka was born in the Czech town of Nové Strašecí, about 35km from Prague, on 7 May 1871. He studied double bass at Prague Conservatoire with Vendelin Sládek (1851 – 1901) from 1885-91, and composition with Antonín Dvořák from 1891-93. He was accepted into Professor Sládek’s class at the age of fourteen and, on his teacher’s advice, remained as a student for an extra year to extend his concert and solo repertoire. In 1895 he was appointed 1st Double Bass and Soloist in the Orchestra of the Czechoslovak Folk Art Exhibition Orchestra, conducted by Karel Kovařovic (1862 – 1920), with whom he gave four performances of his own Elegy. At this time, he also conducted several choirs in the Czech capital, including Obchodnická Beseda and Halek choirs. For a short time, he was the piano teacher of the family of Count Fürstenberg. Between 1899 and 1933, Kuchynka played in the National Theatre Orchestra in Prague, becoming Principal Bass after the death of Jan Komers, and from time to time, worked with the famous Czech Quartet.

Vojta Kuchynka gave solo recitals until the day of his retirement, when he celebrated his 600th recital and was known as “the Kubelík of the Double Bass,” after the leading Czech violinist of the day Jan Kubelík (1880 – 1940). He was praised for his perfect technique, impressive harmonic work, interpretation, and tasteful transcriptions of classical works. Most of his recitals were in Bohemia or Moravia and one concert in Prague, reviewed in The Strad by Miss Windust, stated: “Alongside the brilliant performances of František Ondříček and Karel Hoffmann, it was the admirable virtuosity of Vojta Kuchynka that made the deepest impression on me.” He made the first Czech double bass recording for Parlophon, and Prague Radio broadcast recitals of his music to celebrate his 65th and 70th birthdays.

Vojta’s younger brother František (1879 – 1971) was also a double bassist, initially taught by his brother, before studying at Prague Conservatoire with Vendelín Sládek. He played alongside Vojta at the 1st desk of the National Theatre Orchestra in Prague and Karel Kovařovic, the conductor, nicknamed them “Chrudos and Stahlav,” famous quarrellers in an old Bohemian legend, and both characters were included in Smetana‘s opera Libuše, which was often performed at the National Theatre. In 1906 František emigrated to America, changing his name to Frank, and subsequently became 1st Bass of the New York Symphony Orchestra, Principal Bass of the Minneapolis Symphony, a member of the San Francisco Symphony, and ultimately a member of the MGM studio orchestra in Hollywood. On his 90th birthday, Frank Kuchynka received a letter of congratulation as a “bass viol virtuoso” from President Richard Nixon.

Both brothers were successful musicians in their own right, Vojta in his native Czech Republic and Frank in America. Vojta Kuchynka died on 1 August 1942 in Tábor, Czech Republic. In 1971, on the centenary of his birth and at the instigation of the Czech virtuoso František Pošta, a memorial plaque was unveiled at his birthplace in Nové Strašecí. As a composer, Kuchynka wrote more than 140 works, from orchestral music to songs, choruses, and much chamber music. His works for double bass display the technical possibilities of the solo double bass, alongside its emotional and lyrical potential, and the influence of Dvořák and Czech folk music is evident throughout his music.

There is nothing like an anniversary to create interest in a composer, and 2021 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vojta Kuchynka. Our first two publications in 1986 at Recital Music were miniatures for double bass and piano by Kuchynka (RM001 Canzonetta / RM002 Desire), and I had been first introduced to his music on the iconic recording The Grancino Double Bass of František Pošta in 1981. A year later, I met and heard František Pošta play at the 2nd Isle of Man Double Bass Competition and from 1986-91 studied with him in Prague. I think the first pieces I learned there were probably Kuchnyka’s Canzonetta and Desire, from photocopies of long-forgotten editions, but my interest was piqued, and František was able to introduce me to many others of his works which are mainly unknown and still unpublished today.

A few months ago, I was sent a copy of an Andante for violin and piano by Kuchynka, published many years ago but now long forgotten and out of print. I realized that this would transcribe well for the double bass with a few tweaks and octave changes. It is dedicated to Dr. Ferdinand Pečírka (1859 – 1922), a leading doctor and dermatologist of his day, who was also a great lover of music and, in the mid-1890s, co-founded the Czech Chamber Music Association. Canzonetta is also originally for violin and piano, and František Pošta probably made the transcription for double bass. Amazingly, when I looked through my collection of Kuchynka’s music, I realized I had a copy of an Andante, based on the same music as this one for violin and piano, but rescored for double bass and orchestra and completed on 26 July 1925. The composer obviously liked the piece enough to revisit and transcribe it some years later.

Earlier this year, I heard an amazing YouTube recording of František Černý‘s Concerto No. 4, played beautifully and with great style by Slovakian bassist Filip Jaro. He is planning to record two CDs in 2021, one of Czech double bass concertos and one devoted to the music of Kuchynka. Suddenly, there were opportunities for us to share ideas and music and help bring more of Kuchynka’s music to the attention of bassists worldwide. Filip performed a magnificent online concert of Kuchynka’s music on 7 May, the 150th anniversary of Kuchynka’s birth, including the first modern performance of his Concerto in A major, which I had recently edited for publication. It was completed in 1921 and has remained unpublished until 2021.

Kuchynka’s anniversary has fired my enthusiasm, and one of my many goals over the coming years is to create performing editions of most of Kuchynka’s unpublished works. Many works are complete, some have pages missing or are only fragments of pieces, but the 150th anniversary of his birth is a great boost to the Kuchynka revolution and a catalyst to help introduce more of his music to bassists in the 21st-century. Prima Facie Records have recently invited Duncan Honeybourne (piano) and me to record a CD in 2022, called The Bohemian Bassist, which will, of course, feature several works by Kuchynka.

Kuchynka studied composition with Antonín Dvořák at the Prague Conservatoire and, although his music is not in the same class as the Czech master, he was still a very talented composer who wrote elegant, stylish, and virtuosic music for the double bass. Some of the shorter pieces would easily fit into recitals today, which I can guarantee will appeal to audiences, and demonstrate music from a past time which is maybe a little out of fashion today but is still music of quality and worth.

As an editor and publisher, one of my interests is to promote composers who wrote for the double bass, primarily player-composers, and to help introduce music that is new or has been overlooked and forgotten. The internet and Facebook are wonderful tools when used properly and are such a great way to bring like-minded bass enthusiasts together. 2021 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vojtěch Kuchynka and a wonderful time to remember this much-respected bassist composer from the rich heritage of the double bass.

Conclusion

In celebrating the 150th anniversary of Vojta Kuchynka’s birth, we embark on a journey to rediscover the forgotten melodies of this Czech double bassist and composer. Thanks to the tireless efforts of František Pošta, Kuchynka’s music has not succumbed to the annals of history. Pošta’s advocacy, performances, and recordings have resurrected Kuchynka’s compositions, allowing us to glimpse into the rich heritage of Czech double bassists.

Kuchynka’s life, intertwined with the musical tapestry of late 19th-century Czech Republic, reveals a virtuoso and composer dedicated to his craft. From his early studies with Vendelin Sládek to compositions influenced by Antonín Dvořák, Kuchynka’s legacy extends beyond his acclaimed virtuosity. His music, showcasing technical prowess and emotional depth, transcends time, providing a unique window into the era.

As we commemorate Kuchynka’s 150th birthday, the concerted efforts to unveil unpublished works and create performing editions promise a revival of his artistry. The Kuchynka revolution gains momentum, fueled by collaborations, recordings, and shared enthusiasm within the global bass community. The forthcoming CD, “The Bohemian Bassist,” featuring Duncan Honeybourne and others, will amplify Kuchynka’s voice in the 21st century.

The 2021 anniversary serves as a catalyst, reigniting interest in a composer whose contributions to double bass literature deserve recognition. The internet era enables bass enthusiasts worldwide to unite, fostering a renewed appreciation for Kuchynka’s elegant, stylish, and virtuosic compositions. As we embrace his melodies, we honor not only a bassist-composer but also a chapter in the ever-evolving narrative of double bass music.

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