Czech Radio revives the Proud Princess

Today we look at two very different recordings. The first is by a 20th century Czech composer whose name is almost forgotten, but whose music is familiar to every Czech child. The second offers intriguing insights into changes in the way music was played in the course of the 18th century.

The forgotten composer of the "Proud Princess"

'The Proud Princess'
We start with something that at first hearing might sound out of place in a programme about classical music, as it seems to have more in common with popular music of the 1950s. When you listen it comes as no surprise that it was written for a film, the children's fairy tale, "The Proud Princess", in 1952.

This is an extremely popular film and the music is familiar to just about every Czech child. Its composer was Dalibor Cyril Vackar, who lived from 1906 to 1984. He was an amazingly talented man. Not only did he excel as a violinist and composer, but published poetry, prose, and even plays, which were performed in the National Theatre in Prague. Somehow he found time to write scores for dozens of films, and he also wrote jazz as well as "classical" music.

He is now virtually forgotten, unlike his father, Vaclav Vackar, a composer best known for his brass band music.

Not all Dalibor Vackar's music is in the tone of the Proud Princess, as you can hear on a 2CD recording released by our own Czech Radio label Radioservis. It's called "Smoking Symphony" after of one of the pieces featured. Annoyingly, some of the track numbers on the CD are wrong, as are some of the credits, but it is still a fascinating insight into an undeservedly forgotten composer.

Bohemian violin sonatas as they would have sounded in the 18th century

We move on to a CD called "Bohemian Violin Sonatas". The well-known Czech violinist Gabriela Demeterova performs here with harpsichordist and fortepianist Giedre Luksaite-Mrazkova, a Lithuanian who has lived here in the Czech Republic since 1976. Ms. Demeterova has taken an interest in so-called 'period performance', which means she plays Baroque music with a baroque-era violin and bow, classical era music with a Classical era violin, and so forth. She also tunes the Baroque instrument so that the standard A vibrates at 415 beats per second, instead of at the modern standard, the so-called A440. This is what to our ears is a g-sharp, quite a difference!

On top of that, she replicates the so-called 'straight tone' of the baroque era. If you watch a violinist, you see their left hand, the one on the fingerboard, is constantly wiggling back and forth on longer notes. What they are doing is called 'vibrato' - a slight, rapid alteration of the pitch which gives warmth to the tone. In the baroque era, this was done rarely, to give a special sheen to an expressive note. We can hear this 'straight tone' in the opening of Vaclav Vodicka's Sonata in B flat, featured on the CD. It makes for a dark and rather heavy sound.

On the CD you can contrast this with the sonata in B flat by Jan Ladislav Dusik (also known as Dussek). Although they are both sonatas in B flat, the B flat has changed, as Dusik was born in 1760, in the so-called classical period, while Vodicka was born 45 years earlier, in the high-baroque era.

Also the harpsichord has disappeared to be replaced by an early version of the piano - the fortepiano, where the strings are set in vibration by hammers rather than being plucked by quills.

CDs reviewed in this programme are provided by Siroky Dvur