The history of the double bass features many player-composers who created a wealth of music for bassists of all abilities. Recital Music publish a wide and eclectic range of music by these important figures from the history of the instrument, particularly from the 19th and early 20th-centuries, and more works are in preparation. Some names are well known today, others almost forgotten, but each made a valuable contribution to the repertoire of the double bass and helped create a unqiue repertoire which deserves to be performed.
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David Heyes writes: "A few months ago I started a Concerto Project, one aspect is to study and perform many concertos that I have not had the opportunity to play before alongside publishing ones which are long out of print, have been forgotten or have never been published. About thirty years ago I obtained a copy of the manuscript of Concerto in A major for double bass and piano by Vojtěch [Vojta] Kuchynka (1871-1942), although I have no recollection where it came from. In the 1990s I performed the slow movement at a lunchtime concert in Doncaster, otherwise it has sat in my Kuchynka file until the end of last year. 2021 is the 150th anniversary of Kuchynka's birth and I decided it was time to produce a first edition of the concerto alongside other works of his which remain unpublished to date.
Two salon pieces for double bass and piano by Vojta Kuchynka were Recital Music's first publications 35 years ago and over the years we have added a few other works to keep his name alive into the 21st-century. When I realised that the Concerto was completed on 22 December 1921, exactly one hundred years ago, it was too good an opportunity to miss and I set to work on this mammoth three movement work. I remember František Pošta commenting that it was unlikely that the composer had created an orchestration for the work and the version with piano is the only one available. There are 39 pages of manuscript which, surprisingly translated to 39 typeset pages, and overall it was fairly easy to read, although there are many passages crossed out or amended, and I presume this copy was used for performances by the composer.
Kuchynka's Concerto in A major is in three contrasting movements beginning with a lively and virtuosic Allegro moderato which is full of virtuosic fireworks and opportunities for the soloist to demonstrate a solo technique throughout the solo register. The slow movement (Andante cantabile) brims with Czech lyricism, the shortest of the three movements, exploring the sonorous and cantabile potential of the double bass, contrasting a final movement (Rondo) in 6/8 times which is fast and virtuosic, bringing the work to a strong and successful conclusion. Kuchynka was obviously a very fine soloist, writing for the entire solo range of the double bass and the concerto contrasts Czech styles with the musical language of Central Europe in the late-19th and early 20th-century. His technical knowledge of the double bass ensures music which offers both musical and technical challenges and, although this has taken many hours of typesetting and proofreading, alongside making many editorial decisions, it has been well worth the effort. Kuchynka's music has been part of my musical life for the past 35 years and there are more pieces to ;publish in 2021, the 150th anniversary of his birth." [15 March 2021]
The name of Vojta Kuchynka would have long ago been consigned to the history books without the advocacy and promotion of his music by the great František Pošta (1919-1991). He recorded Canzonetta and Desire, also performing both works in many national and international recitals, and every two years played a recital of Kuchynka's music, amongst other Czech repertoire, in Kuchynka's home town of Nové Strašecí. Kuchynka is part of the rich heritage of Czech double bassists who performed as soloists and composed many works for the double bass but, on the whole is almost forgotten today and unjustly so.
Vojtěch (Vojta) Kuchynka was born in the Czech town of Nové Strašecí on 7 May 1871. He studied double bass at the Prague Conservatoire with Vendelin Sladek (1851-1901) from 1885-91, and composition with Antonín Dvořák from 1891-93. He was accepted into Professor Sladek's class at the age of fourteen and, on his teacher's advice, remained as a student for an extra year to extend his concert and solo repertoire. In 1895 he was appointed 1st Double Bass and Soloist in the Orchestra of the Czechoslovak Folk Art Exhibition Orchestra, conducted by Karel Kovařovic (1862-1920), with whom he gave four performances of his own Elegy. At this time he also conducted a number of choirs in the Czech capital including Obchodnická Beseda and Halek choirs, and for a short time was the piano teacher of the family of Count Fürstenberg. Between 1899 and 1933 Kuchynka played in the National Theatre Orchestra in Prague, becoming Principal Bass after the death of Jan Komers, and from time to time worked with the famous Czech Quartet.
Vojta Kuchynka gave solo recitals until the day of his retirement when he celebrated his 600th recital, and was known as 'the Kubelík of the Double Bass', after the leading Czech violinist of the day Jan Kubelík (1880-1940). He was praised for his perfect technique, impressive harmonic work, interpretation and tasteful transcriptions of classical works. Most of his recitals were in Bohemia or Moravia and one concert in Prague, reviewed in The Strad by Miss Windust, stated "Alongside the brilliant performances of František Ondříček and Karel Hoffmann it was the admirable virtuosity of Vojta Kuchynka that made the deepest impression on me." He made the first Czech double bass recording for Parlophon, and Prague Radio broadcast recitals of his music to celebrate his 65th and 70th birthdays.
Vojta's younger brother František (1879-1971) was also a double bassist, initially taught by his brother, before also studying at the Prague Conservatoire with Vendelin Sladek. He played alongside Vojta at the 1st desk of the National Theatre Orchestra in Prague and Karel Kovařovic, the conductor, nicknamed them 'Chrudos and Stahlav', famous quarrellers in an old Bohemian legend and both characters were included in Smetana's opera Libuše, which was often performed at the National Theatre. In 1906 František emigrated to America changing his name to Frank, and subsequently became 1st Bass of the New York Symphony Orchestra, Principal Bass of the Minneapolis Symphony, a member of the San Francisco Symphony and ultimately a member of the MGM studio orchestra in Hollywood. On his 90th birthday Frank Kuchynka received a letter of congratulation as a 'bass viol virtuoso' from President Richard Nixon.
Both brothers were successful musicians in their own right, Vojta in his native Czech Republic and Frank in America. Vojta Kuchynka died on 1 August 1942 in Tábor, Czech Republic and in 1971, on the centenary of his birth and at the instigation of the Czech virtuoso František Pošta, a memorial plaque was unveiled at his birthplace in Nové Strašecí. As a composer Kuchynka wrote more than 140 works, from chamber and orchestral music to songs, choruses and much chamber music. His works for double bass display the technical possibilities of the solo double bass, alongside the emotional and lyrical potential, and the influence of Dvořák and Czech folk music is evident in most of his music.