Zdenek Chalabala


Born: April 18, 1899 Died: March 4, 1962
Zdenek Chalabala was among the major conductors in twentieth century Czechoslovakia and may have been the greatest native conductor of Czech opera. Born in the Moravian capital of Uherské Hradiste, Chalabala received formative musical training from his mother, who was an amateur pianist. Although at first intending to study hilosophy, Chalabala took his first formal music instruction from Vitezslav Novák at Prague Conservatory and continued at Brno Conservatory with Frantisek Neumann, taking master classes there with composer Leos Janácek. The decade 1925-1936 marked one of teaching at Brno Conservatory for Chalabala and taking on occasional theatrical assignments at the Brno State Theater; among Chalabala's most promising students during this time was ill-fated composer Vítezslava Kaprálová.

In 1936, Chalabala worked as an apprentice under eminent conductor Václav Talich at the Prague National Theater, a position he held until 1944 when the Nazis closed its doors. Upon its reopening in 1945, Talich was dismissed, but Chalabala was not selected to replace him, so he embarked upon a variety of assignments in Ostrava, Brno, and Bratislava, building his reputation as he went along. Chalabala was finally named the principal conductor of the Prague National Theater in 1953 and held onto this position until his premature death at age 62 in 1962; from 1957 to 1959, he also led successful opera productions as a guest conductor at the Great Theater in Moscow.

Although Chalabala's activity as a recording artist did not begin until relatively late in his career, his work is of inestimable value in carrying over performance traditions of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Czech operas into posterity. Chalabala was particularly renowned for his interpretation of Dvorák's Rusalka, which he recorded, famously, in 1958. However, Chalabala also recorded all of the most important Smetana operas and several of Dvorák's symphonic poems. These mostly monophonic recordings are studied by conductors worldwide as a means of getting a grip on the unusual rhythmic accents and interpretive nuances in the great Czech operas, details germane to the style, but not always apparent from the printed page.
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