Svatopluk Havelka

Born 2 May 1925. Died 24 February 2009
Svatopluk Havelka
Svatopluk Havelka

Svatopluk Havelka Biography (BBC)

The new avant-garde musical freedoms that first manifested in the Eastern bloc in the Warsaw Autumn Festivals of the late 1950s, reflected in the works of Górecki, Penderecki and Lutos?awski, soon impinged on countries bordering Poland. Hungarians such as Sándor Balassa, Zsolt Durk— and György Kurtág took note; so too did composers in what was then Czechoslovakia. One of the most important of these was Svatopluk Havelka.

Havelka was born in Vrbice, in the Karvina district. He studied Musicology as a member of the Faculty of Philosophy at Charles University in Prague (1945-7) while privately taking composition lessons with Karel Jirák. After Jirák decided to emigrate to the USA, Havelka became a member of the music department of Czechoslovak Radio in Ostrava, while he also founded and directed a modern music ensemble, NOTA.

Havelka's compositional style, like that of many of his Czech contemporaries, was originally rooted in the national tradition from Dvorak through Suk to Martinuû, concentrating especially on elements of Moravian folk songs and dances. A major landmark in his career, however, came with his First Symphony (1955), which was performed in many countries in a comparatively short time and awarded the Silver Medal at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow. Its bold grasp of large-scale structure made a distinct impression, and it remains one of his most admired works.

After his cantata In Praise of Light (1959) he began to explore the new freedoms suggested by the 'Polish school', including aleatory procedures and an emphasis on unusual sonorities as an essential part of his music's materials, but his instinctive drive seems to have been to synthesise these with more traditional ideas of thematic and motivic development.

He had a particular interest in unusual and exotic percussion instruments, some of which he discovered on visits to Cuba and China, and wrote a number of works for percussion ensemble. In more recent works written since the fall of the Communist Czech regime, there is an overtly Christian religious stance.

Havelka received many national and international awards and was an influential teacher of composition. Major works, apart from Hommage ˆ Hieronymus Bosch, include the symphonic poem Foam (1965) after a poem by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, a 'symphonic picture' Ernesto Che Guevara (1966), the oratorio Jerome of Prague (1984), and Signs of the Times for orchestra (1996).

He is, however, perhaps most widely known for his film scores: he wrote music for over 70 feature-length and 150 short films, and won awards for That Cat! (1963) and All Good Citizens (1968), both directed by Vojteÿch Jasn«y, and The Prince and the Evening Star (1979).

Svatopluk Havelka Tracks

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