Remembering Geraldine Mucha: a Scottish composer in Prague whose work and spirit will live on

Geraldine Mucha

The death on October 12 of the Scottish composer Geraldine Mucha at the age of 95 marked the end of an era. Since the end of WWII, her home had been Prague, where she moved with her husband, the outstanding Czech writer, Jiří Mucha. It was here that much of her work was composed and performed, although it always bore an imprint of her native Scotland. Her father-in-law was the celebrated artist of Art Nouveau Paris, Alfons Mucha, and she did much to help to keep his work together. In this special programme, David Vaughan talks to Patricia Goodson, who knew Geraldine Mucha well.

Geraldine Mucha,  photo: David Vaughan
Visiting Geraldine Mucha at her romantically impractical 18th century flat in Prague’s Hradčany, where she had lived for the last half century, was like travelling in time. The flat was full of memorabilia not just from her own life, but also the remarkable family into which she married. She died just two weeks after a concert to celebrate her 95th birthday, which brought together many of her friends, family and admirers. The concert pianist Patricia Goodson was one of the driving forces behind the concert, and when we met at her house in Prague to talk about Geraldine, we began with the concert:

“Christopher Vince and I were sitting here. Chris is a British artist who has lived a long time in Prague and was a very close friend of Geraldine’s. And we just said, ‘Well, her 95th birthday’s coming, so let’s do another concert,’ because we did one for her 90th birthday. I said, ‘Let’s do an orchestral concert this time,’ because one of Geraldine’s many fans is an orchestra manager with the Hradec Králové Philharmonic. So we just went from there. She was instantly on board. We got support from the orchestra, found a great conductor and we started raising funds – and we were off.”

I was at the concert, which was just a couple of weeks before she died, and it was a very moving occasion. So much of her music hadn’t been played for a long time, and here it was, coming to life. You could see that she was positively glowing!

“The wonderful thing about it was that Geraldine was extremely modest and made no effort whatever to get her music performed. People would know her for a decade or more and have no idea that she was not only a composer but, frankly, a great composer. And so, there was a capacity crowd of about three hundred people. They heard this music – most of them had no idea she could do anything like that – and they were stunned. So many people were just flabbergasted. She was flooded with letters and calls and visits after that, and she saw that people really loved and were moved by her music.”

Patricia Goodson,  photo: David Vaughan
You mention Geraldine’s modesty. I should point out your own modesty in that you haven’t mentioned that you played one of her piano pieces at the concert.

“Well, it was her piano concerto. It’s a wonderful piece. I had no idea. The only copy of it was in the rental library, so I’d never seen it. I knew it existed, but she said, ‘Oh, that’s rubbish! It’s got movements and nobody writes movements anymore!’ So I went down one day and borrowed it. I looked at it and it seemed fabulous. So I really wanted to do it, and I think it’s such a beautiful piece that it should go around the world. Already a couple of other pianists have expressed interest in it.”

Over the twenty-one years that you have lived in Prague, you have got to know Geraldine Mucha very well. I remember her as a very warm person.

“She had a certain way about her – again very modest. She was charming without ever seeking to charm. There was something mysterious about her way of drawing people to her and you felt great in her company. She had friends in all walks of life and from all over the world, and you felt, when you were there, that you were her best friend. I don’t know what it is, but there was something about her that, as Chris Vince remarked, she must have had even as a young woman or as a child.”

And you can see how Jiří Mucha, who must have been a pretty charming man himself – and quite a lady’s man – fell for her.

“She was definitely the love of his life. When I met her, she was still gorgeous and wonderful, but when she was a young woman, she was a knockout. She was absolutely beautiful and she had this world-class musical talent. He’d had to be an extraordinary character himself to be with her, I’d say.”

And Geraldine Mucha died surrounded by family and friends.

Jiří Mucha in 'Ředitel zeměkoule' documentary by Czech Television
“Yes. Quite literally. Her son and daughter-in-law had a little supper to thank us for doing this concert. It was very informal and it was literally some of her very closest friends, and the conductor of the concert who was also a great fan. We had a lovely supper, very jolly. Geraldine was in fine form. She was laughing and telling her stories. And then afterwards, suddenly, very quickly without pain, she just was gone. And we were all there. It was miraculous.”

Almost as if she had written the score herself.

“Well, it did feel like that.”

Back in 2005, Patricia Goodson and I visited Geraldine Mucha, to talk to her for Radio Prague. Here is that interview.