Slavonic Rhapsody

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74 publications in this series

The Heritage Series series

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.

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.

Kuchynka's Rapsodie for double bass and piano was completed in Prague on 23 February 1931, at a time when, apart from bassists, few composers were writing for the instrument. The front page and the double bass part of the manuscript call the piece a 'Rapsodie' but the piano part describes it as 'Slovanská Rapsodie' - effectively a Slavonic Rhapsody for double bass. The two titles were written by the composer so it is difficult to know which he actually wanted, but a Slavonic Rhapsody for double bass and piano sounds more descriptive and exciting.

Kuchynka writes in a traditional idiom, obviously influenced by his composition teacher, Antonín Dvořák and the style of the day, producing a work which could easily have been composed during the final decade of the 19th-century. The piece is in one extended movement, lasting around nine minutes according to a pencilled marking on the double bass part, and Kuchynka was obviously a very fine bassist with an expert knowledge and technique across the entire range of the instrument. The Rapsodie contrasts passages of great virtuosity with lyrical melodies which emphasise the sonorous and cantabile qualities of the double bass, but also display its great technical potential. Much as Dvořák exploited a whole range of styles and emotions in his two sets of Slavonic Dances, so does Kuchynka but here encapsulated into one piece lasting nine minutes.

Rapsodie is ideal for any advanced player and employs passages of speed and virtuosity, double stops, harmonics and extremes of register, alongside melodies and lyrical episodes which test every aspects of the bassists technique, and readily takes its place amongst the great array of repertoire by the leading Czech bassist-composers of the late 19th and early 20th-century such as František Simandl, Gustav Láska, František Černý, Rudolf Tuláček and Adolf Míšek. The music is well written for the double bass, exploring much of the solo register with the obligatory use of scales and arpeggios, harmonics and double stops, and has been unknown and unpublished for almost 85 years.

Composed in solo tuning and with a piano accompaniment which is both supportive and independent, Kuchynka's Slovanská Rapsodie is a great addition to the repertoire, at a time when more bassists are becoming interested in the rich heritage of the instrument. The younger generation are able to access the repertoire of the past 150 years much easily than at any time before and a work like this has much to commend it bassists and audiences alike. It follows the Central European tradition rather than the music of Bottesini, but Kuchynka successfully melds both styles to create a work of character, invention and great virtuosity. The name of Vojta Kuchynka is known in double bass circles, although the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) have included his Canzonetta for viola and piano on its Grade 4 syllabus for viola, and his name is now extending to a different audience, which can only be a good thing and hopefully a substantial work like the Slovanská Rapsodie can introduce the music and name of this Czech bassist-composer to new generations.

David Heyes [16 October 2015]

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Cat No. RM549
Supplier Code RM549
Price £10.00
ComposerVojta Kuchynka
EditorDavid Heyes
CategoryDouble Bass & Piano
SeriesHeritage Series
Difficulty levelAdvanced
ISMN 979-0-57045-549-2
EAN-13 9790570455492
Weight 130 grams
Published 28th January 2016
Availability 5 in stock
See also...
RM051  Tarantella
RM099  Romanze
RM144  Bagatelle (CELLO & PIANO)
RM193  Duo (CELLO & DOUBLE BASS)