Encore: From the Blue Room to the meaning of life - two very different modern Czech composers.

Jaroslav Jezek

Today we enjoy a CD of works by Jaroslav Jezek. He was a Czech composer of the inter-war period who made a huge impression on Czech musical culture, and this recording features his own piano, still in place in Jezek's famous "Blue Room". We also engage in some "Philosophical Dialogues" with contemporary composer, Oldrich Korte, whose works confront some of the basic questions of our existence.

Music from Jaroslav Jezek's Blue Room

We start with a recording of the Czech composer Jaroslav Jezek's very own piano. You may remember it from a previous edition of Encore, when we visited the famous 'Blue Room' - in Jezek's former apartment on Kaprova Street in Prague's Old Town.

Jaroslav Jezek lived from 1906 to 1942. He was only partially sighted and could see best against a background of blue. So in his flat, the walls, the curtains, even the light bulbs are cool blue colors.

A family lives in the flat now, but on one afternoon a week, the room is open to the public. So if you visit Prague on a Tuesday, you too can visit the Blue Room and see where Jezek composed nearly all of his music - and where this CD was recorded.

The recording is quite a mix. Jezek was a versatile composer and his greatest successes were with popular rags and foxtrots written for the so-called Liberated Theatre of the legendary comedy duo Voskovec and Werich. The CD contains some of them, including the famous Bugatti Step, and it also has pieces which rose out of his strict classical training. Sometimes even these contain elements of popular music. His Petite Suite is an example, which includes a Charleston - all the rage in the 20's.

The somewhat clunky sound of the piano is not the pianist's fault! It is a small (and old) piano, a Steinway Model M (M for medium sized - nothing more exotic than that), perfectly suited for the home, but it lacks the power and tone of a concert grand, and there is only so much the pianist can do with such an instrument.

Oldrich Korte and music of the "Presence"

Jezek's so-called 'serious pieces' were often premiered at evenings of the Music Group of the Manes Artists' Club, the musicians' wing of a group of artists associated with the - at the time - quite radical Manes art gallery. Similar groups exist to this day, ranging from conservative to radical, which bring non-commercial new music before the public. They consist of mostly of composers, with a few performers thrown in - Atelier 90, Umelecka beseda, Agon, and Pritomnost. Pritomnost, which means 'presence' is one of the oldest, founded in 1924, and they have been putting out a series of CDs of their music.

Much of it is quite appealing. One particularly fascinating and ambitious piece comes from composer and writer Oldrich F. Korte, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year, though I must say he looks much younger! This is his four movement work entitled 'Philosophical Dialogues' for violin and piano. The recording features violinist Shizuka Ishikawa with the composer himself at the piano.

According to Mr Korte, the composition deals with nothing less than the meaning of life. Starting with 'The Basic Question', the work happily does offer, 'The Answer' as the final movement, after some musical wrestling with questions of truth and happiness, in which, according to the liner notes, 'Happiness need not be truthful, nor truth happy'. himself at the piano.

Mr. Korte has earned the right to philosophize - he spent time in concentration camps and communist prisons, but went on to tour the world with the Czech multi-media sensation of the Sixties - Laterna Magika (Magic Lantern).

The 'Philosophical Dialogues' can be found on a disk entitled Pritomnost VI on the Arco Diva label.

CDs reviewed in this programme are provided by Siroky Dvur