Vítezslava Kaprálová

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Born: January 24, 1915; Brno, Czech Republic   Died: June 16, 1940; Montpellier, France  
Beautiful, confident, smart, and talented, Czech composer Vitezslava Kaprálová startled the European music world upon her entrance in the 1930s. On June 17, 1935, Kaprálová made her debut conducting her own Piano Concerto in D minor at the Brno Conservatory; she was just 20 years old. Kaprálová's Military Sinfonietta was presented at the 1938 ISCM Festival in London, and again Kaprálová conducted, this time with the BBC Symphony. Critic and Read more composer Havergal Brian commented that "(it) proved an amazing piece of orchestral writing: it was also of logical and well-balanced design." That same year Kaprálová became involved in a whirlwind affair with (married) composer Bohuslav Martinu that ended in April 1940 when Kaprálová married Jiri Mucha, writer and son of the painter Alphonse Mucha. Mere weeks later, Kaprálová was dead at the sorrowfully early age of 25 of an abdominal pain that was probably misdiagnosed when it was identified as "tuberculosis miliaris."

Kaprálová produced more than 70 works, the majority of them written between 1935 to 1939. These include the ballad oratorio Ilena, symphonic pieces, concertos, chamber music, keyboard works, and many songs, of which Waving Farewell is perhaps the best known. The songs in particular show a distinctive musical voice at work; Kaprálová's music demonstrates an understanding of French impressionism but doesn't sound particularly French, and sometimes Kaprálová incorporates some of the toughness and grit of expressionistic writing to put over a dramatic effect.

Kaprálová initially studied at the Brno Conservatory, and later with composer Vitezslav Novák. From 1938 Kaprálová was studying at the L'École Normale de Musique de Paris and was nearly trapped in the city when it was occupied by the Nazis. Kaprálová's husband Jiri Mucha managed to smuggle her out to a hospital in Montpellier, where she died. Kaprálová and her work have always been best known in the former Czechoslovakia and its related republics, but gained international renown only since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Some refer to Kaprálová as a "holocaust victim," which is not quite true. Access to decent medical care, impossible to get during the wartime occupation of France, might have made a difference in Kaprálová's case. Nonetheless, the vast majority of music she wrote survives and is well worth getting to know. Read less

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