A Bohemian Rhapsody

So much double bass music and teaching stems from the foundation of the double bass class at Prague Conservatoire in 1811, and the names of many teachers and students from the conservatoire are still known today.

With David Heyes · United Kingdom

Recital Music founder David Heyes in Prague with his teacher František Pošta.

My interest in Czech music started in the early 1980s, soon after I began to study at the Royal College of Music in London, and continues to this day.

The college had a vast music library, including many double bass pieces, which were new to me and, the more I researched, the more I began to realise that so much double bass music and teaching stems from the foundation of the double bass class at Prague Conservatoire in 1811. The names of many teachers and students from the conservatoire are still known today and their careers as soloists, orchestral players, teachers, and composers resonate through the centuries.

In 1981 I received a package of music from the Czech Music Information Centre in Prague, including a copy of a Supraphon LP called ‘The Grancino Double Bass of František Pošta’, which included recordings of music by Vojta Kuchynka, František Černý, Silvestr Hipman and more, and whetted my appetite to learn more. The following year I met František Pošta at the Isle of Man Competition and in 1986, shortly after, he retired as Principal Bass of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra after over forty years with the orchestra. I began to study with him in Prague.

Czechoslovakia was still under communist rule in 1986 and I had to obtain a visa, change money at the border and check in with the police soon after arrival. It was an amazing experience to be behind the ‘iron curtain’, but František and his family made me welcome from the minute I arrived in Prague and I have been visiting the Czech Republic for 37 years.

My first visit to Prague lasted about ten days, and I had 27 hours of lessons with František during that time, which was amazing when I had only had 30 hours a year at the Royal College of Music. He introduced me to the music of Vojta Kuchynka, František Černý, Adolf Mišek, František Hertl, Silvestr Hipman, Jaroslav Maštaliř and more, and I came home with a large package of Czech music which wasn’t available in the west.

Recital Music began later in 1986 with Canzonetta and Desire, two short salon pieces for double bass and piano by Vojta Kuchynka (1871-1942). Both are still available as digital downloads today and I am pleased to have added other pieces by Kuchynka to the catalogue. Much of his music was unpublished and František Pošta helped me obtain copies of the manuscripts. Kuchynka’s music is elegant and charming, virtuosic and accomplished, and he was obviously an exceptional soloist who knew how to write so well for the double bass.

František Černý (1861-1940) had owned the Grancino double bass, which my teacher played, and occasionally, I was allowed to play Černý’s music on Černý’s bass, which was such a privilege. Černý wrote a number of double bass pieces, including four concertos, a Method, and books of studies, and his music is typical of the late 19th-century, combining the romantic style with Czech folk influences. Some of his pieces were published by Bosworth & Co., who had an archive in Vienna, and they were able to provide copies of some of his salon pieces. Recital Music publish a number of pieces by Černý and there are more to come soon.

František Simandl (1840-1912), better known as Franz Simandl, is probably the most important figure in the Prague Double Bass School, and his many students in Vienna exported the Czech system to every corner of the world. Simandl’s Method has been in print for about 150 years, and although many things have changed over the years, much of it is still relevant today. Simandl was an orchestral bassist, soloist, teacher, composer, and commissioner of new music for the instrument. His ground-breaking series of nine volumes of pieces, published in Germany by C.F. Schmidt, brings together music by many of the leading bassists in Europe at the time. We publish a number of his original works alongside various pieces from the nine-volume series and more are planned for publication over the coming year.

Rudolf Tuláček (1885-1954) was totally unknown to me until I met his great-nephew Tomáš at a concert in Oxford in the late 1980s. He mentioned that his great-uncle was a famous Czech bassist who had also composed a number of works for double, which instantly fired my interest and enthusiasm. Eventually copies of all his pieces were sent to me, alongside a wonderful letter from his daughter, Dr Emilie Balátová, a noted and internationally respected botanist, and we remained friends until her death in 2005. None of Tuláček’s music was published, which is probably why I had never heard of him, and the technical demands demonstrate that he was a very great player indeed. I performed many of his pieces, created first editions, and wrote about his life and my aim is to produce digital editions of all his pieces by the end of 2024. Primarily aimed at the advanced bassist, Tuláček’s music is beautifully written for the instrument, full of romantic bravura and virtuosity, and I am pleased that Recital Music is bringing this music back to life.

Adolf Lotter (1871-1942) studied double bass and composition at Prague Conservatoire and lived in London from 1894 until his death in 1942. He was a much respected orchestral bassist in London, eventually being appointed Principal Bass of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra, conducted by Sir Henry Wood, alongside working for Hawkes & Co. as a composer and arranger/editor. Lotter composed several works for the double bass, and his Method has been in print for over a century. We are proud to include Lotter as part of our catalog, and a few years ago, I was able to buy his archive, which included manuscripts, photos, a diary from 1894-1914, and more.

František Gregora, Gustav Láska, Karel Trautsch, and Jan Geissel are also part of the Czech heritage series alongside the amazing music and transcriptions of Milosav Gajdoš, which bring us up to date. 37 years ago Recital Music began with two salon pieces by Vojta Kuchynka and Czech music remains a prominent and important part of our catalogue.

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