Legendary lyricist and songwriter Zdeněk Rytíř dies at 69

Zdeněk Rytíř, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic has lost one of its most highly-regarded lyricists and songwriters, Zdeněk Rytíř, who worked with many of the biggest names on the Czech music scene for more than 40 years. The 69-year-old hit-maker died on Tuesday after suffering a heart attack.

Zdeněk Rytíř,  photo: CTK
Zdeněk Rytíř was a veritable legend on the Czech pop scene, the man behind hits for some of the country’s best-known performers, from Vaclav Neckar to Marta Kubisova and the rock group Olympic. Born in 1944, Rytíř first made his mark in the 1960s as Bigbít, the Czech version of rock ‘n’ roll, as it was becoming immensely popular in then- Czechoslovakia.

The poet and lyricist was first a singer and musician himself, performing with groups like Mefisto (which he founded with another song-writing legend – the late Karel Svoboda) or Blue Five. But it was a hit-maker for others that he achieved his greatest fame. He worked early on with performer Václav Neckář and Bacily, who were rising stars. The first Rytíř song recorded by Neckář was called Život (Life) which the composer had written at the age of just 15.

As a composer and lyricist Zdeněk Rytíř was influenced by American great Bob Dylan, and he artfully transposed a number of Dylan songs into Czech, including Časy se mění (The Times they are A-Changin) and Tam u nebeských bran (Knocking on Heaven’s Door). Časy se mění was recorded and performer by Golden Kids, featuring the talents of Václav Neckář with fellow performers Helena Vondráčková and Marta Kubišová.

Petr Kalandra recorded Tam u nebeských bran:

In the 1980s, Rytíř worked closely with Czech rock and pop group Olympic, but arguably his most extensive collaborative effort throughout his life was with Neckář. Rytíř was the art director on the singer’s 60th birthday concert and the two remained good friends until the end. Mr Neckář spoke briefly to Czech Radio on Wednesday:

Václav Neckář,  photo: Matěj Pálka
“Zdeněk Rytíř was my greatest friend. He wrote many lyrics for me. I feel terrible. He was my close collaborator and friend.”

Marta Kubišová also spoke to Czech Radio; recalling the lyricist’s career, she called Rytíř a “modern poet”.

“He was very knowledgeable and he had a feel for the times and knew what kind of music or lyrics were right. He was able to adjust his repertoire and he knew how to find the right lyrics. We don’t have many poets like him anymore.”

Zdeněk Rytíř had suffered from a prolonged illness and according to the tabloid Blesk was awaiting a lung transplant at the time of his death.