About this Recording
GP708 - KAPRÁLOVÁ, V.: Piano Music (Complete) (Koukl)
English  French 



The brief but intense life of Czech composer and conductor Vítězslava Kaprálová (1915–1940) was set between the two world wars in the period of the First Czechoslovak Republic to whose modernist movement she belonged. Kaprálová’s creative development began in her hometown of Brno, stimulated first by the cultured environment of her own family and its circle of friends, among whom were some of the finest musicians and music scholars of the new republic. Her natural talent was recognized early and nurtured by her parents who both played an important role in Kaprálová’s early musical development. Her mother Vítězslava, born Uhlířová (1890–1973), was a qualified voice teacher; her father, Václav Kaprál (1889–1947), was a composer (a pupil of Leoš Janáček), teacher, pianist, choirmaster and music editor. The city’s conservatory, where young Kaprálová pursued a double major in composition and conducting from 1930–1935, provided a solid foundation for her education, which was further advanced by her studies under composer Vítězslav Novák and conductor Václav Talich at the Prague Conservatory from 1935–1937. Following her graduation from the conservatory’s Master School in 1937 and aided by a French government scholarship, Kaprálová moved to Paris, where she continued her studies in conducting with Charles Munch at the École normale de musique, while also taking private lessons in composition with Paris-based Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů. The two became close friends and lovers. Martinů’s often cited influence on Kaprálová’s musical development is overestimated, however, for the music of Igor Stravinsky and her father in particular exerted as strong an influence on the young composer. There is no doubt that when Kaprálová died in 1940, possibly from typhoid fever, just two months after marrying Alphonse Mucha’s son, the world of classical music was robbed of a burgeoning talent and a highly individual voice.

Like her composer father, Kaprálová was drawn to piano as her natural instrument, and piano compositions are well represented in her relatively large creative output that includes about fifty compositions. Piano also played a crucial role in her music as a compositional tool with which she experimented in both smaller and larger forms. It is therefore not surprising that her most original and sophisticated works are for this instrument: from her Sonata appassionata and Piano Concerto in D Minor to April Preludes and Variations sur le carillon de l’église St.-Etienne-du-Mont (and the Martinů–influenced, neoclassical Partita in which piano also plays an important percussive role). Piano compositions arguably represent the best of Kaprálová’s music which abounds in fresh and bold ideas, humour, passion and tenderness, and is imbued with youthful energy.

This release is an in-depth exploration of Kaprálová’s development as a composer for piano. The first composition to appear on the disc is the remarkable two-movement Sonata appassionata, Op. 6, from 1933, which is considered a major contribution to twentieth century Czech sonata literature. The first movement in traditional sonata form radiates passionate intensity; the second movement is a theme and set of lyrical variations which gradually obscure the melodic and harmonic connections to the theme. The sonata is followed by three bold, contemporaneous exercises in originally Baroque forms: Praeludium and Crab Canon (from Three Piano Pieces, Op. 9) and Grotesque Passacaglia. These pieces, all from 1935, are products of the composer’s studies at the Prague Conservatory, as is the pianistic gem Dubnová preludia, Op. 13 (April Preludes) from 1937, four brief and highly varied pieces that represent a major stepping stone in Kaprálová’s development as a composer and remain her most often performed and recorded work for solo piano. They are preceded by the earliest work on this disc—Five Piano Compositions, from 1931–1932. Kaprálová was only sixteen and seventeen when she composed the pieces but their emotional maturity and pianistic demands set them apart from her earlier juvenilia. Kaprálová coined the title Piano Suite for the first four of them and valued them enough to orchestrate them three years later under the title Suite en miniature, Op. 1. The fifth composition, with tempo indication Alla marcia funebre, later became her Funeral March, Op. 2. The Variations sur le carillon de l’église St-Étienne-du-Mont, Op. 16 were composed in Paris in 1938. These variations on a theme, a form Kaprálová favoured, are an exquisite example of the composer’s sophisticated musical vocabulary with its highly original harmonies, already firmly established in April Preludes. Kaprálová subjected the theme to six variations as in the second movement of her sonata; here, however, the theme, based on a repetitive melodic pattern of the peal of bells from a Parisian church, is extremely brief and simple. The work was so admired by Bohuslav Martinů that he helped to have it published by La Sirène éditions musicales in Paris the same year. This survey of Kaprálová’s piano catalogue continues with her last work for piano solo—Dance for Piano (1940), reconstructed for this recording by Giorgio Koukl from the only surviving sketch of the composition which was originally conceived as Two Dances for Piano, Op. 23. The work was commissioned by one of Kaprálová’s most notable interpreters, virtuoso pianist Rudolf Firkušný, but the second dance was likely never finished and our sketch remains the only expression of the entire composition. While we cannot be certain whether this is what the final composition would have looked like, as Kaprálová was known to revise her sketches, the reconstructed score successfully captures the spirit of the piece. Our exploration of a remarkable musical voice of the twentieth century ends with five piano miniatures. Dvě kytičky (Two Bouquets of Flower) from 1935, are miniature musical poems, two melancholic reminiscences—the first entitled Kytička fialek (Small Bouquet of Violets), the second Podzimní listí (Autumn Leaves). Písnička (Little Song), from 1936, is the composer’s only contribution to children’s piano literature. Ostinato Fox (1937) and Festive Fanfare (1940) were both intended as musical presents: Kaprálová composed the first for her friend Jiřinka Černušáková, the daughter of Gracian Černušák, an esteemed Brno musicologist, and the second as a birthday present to Sašenka Pucová, the twelve-year-old daughter of Čestmír Puc, one of Kaprálová’s benefactors in Paris.

All of the piano pieces featured on this disc are available in print: a few were published during Kaprálová’s lifetime (Grotesque Passacaglia, Písnička, April Preludes, and Variations sur le carillon), the others following the Kaprálová revival in the first decade of this millennium. Some of this music has also been released on record; however, this release presents the most complete collection of Kaprálová’s works for piano solo recorded to date, and features four world premieres: Two Bouquets of Flower, Ostinato Fox, Festive Fanfare, and, most importantly, Dance for Piano.

Karla Hartl, The Kapralova Society

Founded in Toronto in 1998, The Kapralova Society’s mission is to promote the music of Czech composer Vítězslava Kaprálová and to build awareness of women’s contributions to musical life. To this end, the Society publishes research on Kaprálová and other women in music on its website kapralova.org and in its online journal, and assists projects that make Kaprálová’s music available for the first time in print, on record, and in performance.

Close the window