Magazine article Czech Music

Jaroslav Jezek: Co-Creator of the Czech Inter-War Modern Movement

Magazine article Czech Music

Jaroslav Jezek: Co-Creator of the Czech Inter-War Modern Movement

Article excerpt

At the beginning of autumn last year a hundred years had passed since the birth of the remarkable Czech composer, phenomenal pianist and elemental musician Jaroslav Jezek (25th September 1906-1st January 1942). 2006 was generally a year in which great musical anniversaries were celebrated, with concerts commemorating Mozart, Schumann, and Shostakovich taking place throughout the world, but Jezek seems to have been rather forgotten in his homeland, the Czech Republic, even though he was part of an important chapter in modern Czech history, and not only in the field of music.

The 1920s in Czechoslovakia

Jezek was very much a representative of inter-war Czechoslovakia--the first independent republic, born on the 28th of October 1918, in which Czechs invested so many hopes after four years of devastating war. His personality resonated perfectly with the spirit of the time, the spirit of inter-war Europe, which the 1st World War had definitively severed from the last offshoots of Late Romanticism. Jezek belonged to the generation born soon after 1900, which not yet had time to make its mark before the war. In 1918, however, it entered the scene with enormous energy, welling from the desire to survive, to enjoy life at full tilt and with the new jazz rhythms and wild dancing to drown out the disillusion produced by the corrosive experience of war. The twenties were a time of intoxication with jazz and the American dance rhythms of the foxtrot and charleston, the time of the first films, when people were fascinated by the speed of automobiles and aeroplanes, and the telephone and radio were ceasing to be rarities. The first post-war decade was building its own new world from scratch, without anyone realising how short its life would be. Over the period 1920-1949 the dominant style in the arts was Art Deco, which with its orientation to the applied arts spread to all fields of human activity. The different branches of the arts were characterised by a succession of -isms, some of them ephemeral. There was an inexhaustible number of models and inspirations for creative artists.

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Even between the wars there were plenty of traditionalists defending academicism, but these were ever more often confronted with the innovative spirit of their younger colleagues. Experienced teachers at the Prague Conservatory recognised the talent of the young student Jezek and understood that for him classical education and academic grounding were only a springboard to a new life, but they nonetheless were prepared to meet him halfway. Even strict authorities in the mould of K. B. Jirak were of help to the young Jezek, and another important Czech composer, Josef Suk, was generous in his praise.

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Jaroslav Jezek was born on the 25th of September 1906 in the Prague district of Zizkov as the son of a ladies' tailor Adolf Jezek and his wife, who was to give birth two years later to his sister Jarmila. Jaroslav started to attend general school, but after two years his teacher recommended that his parents send him to an institute for children with poor sight, since at three he had lost his right eye after a third unsuccessful operation and he had only minimal sight in his left eye. To make matters worse, scarlet fever had left him with a festering infection in both ears which had failed to heal and permanently impaired in his hearing. As we know from the example of many other composers, nature often compensates for physical handicap by endowing the afflicted man or woman with an inner life of unusual perceptiveness, imagination and acuity, which when combined with an enormously strong will, zest for life and heightened intensity of experience becomes fertile soil for the growth of an artist of genius.

After the outbreak of the 1st World War Jezek's father was called up and so committed his son to the Hradcany Institute for the Education and Treatment of Blind and Poorly Sighted Children. …

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