Pulitzer Prize-winning Czech classical composer Karel Husa born 100 years ago

This Saturday marked exactly 100 years since the birth of Karel Husa, a famous Czech-born, US-based composer and conductor, who is perhaps better known in the world than in his native country. Husa received the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and, like many other great Czech composers, has linked the country’s musical tradition with the world’s.

Karel Husa | Photo: Renáta Spisarová,  Czech Radio

After a youth spent in the German-occupied Prague during the Second World War, Karel Husa went on to study composition and conducting in Paris with Arthur Honegger and Nadia Boulanger.

Following the Communist coup in February 1948, Husa decided not to return to Czechoslovakia and to stay in France. The Communists did not condone his decision, and for the next forty years his compositions disappeared from Czech concert stages.

In 1954, the music department at Cornell University offered him the opportunity to teach composition, music theory and conducting. In March that year, Karel Husa moved to the US. In 1959 he received American citizenship, and his stay at the university was changed from temporary to permanent.

In 1968, in protest against the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops, Husa composed the legendary piece ‘Music for Prague 1968’, which was not performed in his homeland until February 1990, following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

While Husa is considered a US composer, in his soul and in his work he clearly remained a Czech. As the programmer of the Prague Symphony Orchestra Martin Rudovský says, Husa dedicated many of his compositions directly to Prague:

“Like other great Czech composers, he linked the Czech musical tradition with the world’s. He has developed the suggestive language of his mentor Arthur Honegger into a very distinct form, in which tenderness meets with harshness.”

The label Supraphon, in cooperation with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, has released a new album to mark the centenary of Karel Husa’s birth. It includes Three Frescoes and Symphony No. 2 ‘Mirroring’ and ‘Music for Prague 1968’, which you can hear today in this edition of Sunday Music Show.