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František Sláma Archive > Ars Rediviva in Documents and Reminiscences, Discography

Ars Rediviva in Documents and Reminiscences

"Baroque music has stronger appeal than that of other stylistic periods, particularly for young people and, in this country, audiences have shown an interest in this genre for quite some time now. Certainly for considerably longer than it was recognised officially, before people began to write about it and seek its causes, whether the phenomenon was explained objectively or seen in the light of a Bachian trend among young people...
Over the past 15 years Baroque music has been performed extensively in this country. (I have chosen this time frame by design; I well remember the extraordinary success of a Baroque concert in 1951, organised by the newly established chamber ensemble Ars Rediviva; not only was the concert sold out, but there was also a repeat performance of it straight afterwards, again in front of a capacity crowd.)...
Let's take a brief look at the characteristics underlying the musical interpretation which emerged during the cycle and also during the development of the ensemble itself. In the basic line-up of Ars Rediviva we currently have Milan Munclinger - flute, Stanislav Duchoň - oboe, František Sláma - cello and Josef Hála - harpsichord. Depending on the programme being performed, they are then joined by other leading Czech chamber musicians and orchestral players [...] In Baroque music it really is difficult to detect the fine line between the player's personal contribution as a performer, and his personal inclination to exhibit. Yet all the members of the ensemble have an infallible sense of this. In their hands, everything flows naturally and smoothly, the dynamics and agogic accents arise from the requirements of the compositional structure, from the relationship between the individual voices and their dependence on one another. This often elusive naturalness is probably one of the main aspects on the gramophone recordings which - quite rightly - attract foreign critics, who place this ensemble alongside the greatest contemporary performers of Baroque music. Moreover, their success with the public is undoubtedly due to the fact that they are able to put together an impressive series of programmes throughout the season, each of which has its own special appeal [...] There probably hasn't been a single performance by Ars Rediviva in recent years that hasn't attracted a wide audience. [...] The uninitiated could hardly imagine the effort required to assemble a full-length evening programme, let alone an entire cycle."
(Jaromír Kříž: "Naši umělci a barokní interpretace" ["Czech musicians and Baroque interpretation"], Hudební rozhledy [Music Revue] 7/66, Czechoslovak Composers' Association, Prague 1966)

When a flustered Pragokoncert staff member once asked Milan Munclinger: "So, how many members play in your Ars Rediviva, in fact?", he apparently answered in his typical way: "It depends; we might have thirty players, or there might be only five, four, or perhaps only me on my own." He who is acquainted with the history of Ars Rediviva knows that this lightly ironic emphasis isn't really an overstatement. After Talich's Czech Chamber Orchestra, I wasn't aware of any other musical ensemble which was so closely connected with its founder - from the idea to create an ensemble of this kind and the systematic accumulation of its huge repertoire, to the organisation involved, the editing, recordings and programming of what was probably the largest subscription cycle of any chamber ensemble in our musical history.

Milan Munclinger had all the best prerequisites for this task of a lifetime. His father was a singer and well known opera director who, during his time, did much to ensure the enormous success of productions held at the National Theatre. According to Milan himself, he must have been a fascinating and, in many respects, nonconformist person and, although he died relatively young, he had always been an important arbiter for his son at decisive times in his life. Milan Munclinger studied at the Conservatoire and Academy of Music in Prague during the years 1942-50, and he also graduated from Charles University's Philosophical Faculty in 1952. His teachers included flautists Jaroslav Čížek and Rudolf Černý, and later his friend Jean-Pierre Rampal. He studied composition with professors Janeček and Krejčí, and privately with Alois Hába. And, in my opinion, his years of apprenticeship with the State Opera orchestra in Vratislav, the Silesian Philharmonic and the Gewandhaus (1943-45) greatly influenced the direction he was to take thereafter. His time spent employed in the orchestral and opera archives and libraries also provided him with good grounding for his work as an editor later on.

The post-war period was extremely favourable towards early music and there was huge interest in it, both in Czechoslovakia and beyond its borders. However, few people are aware today of the other side of the coin. It all began "in green pastures", so to speak; apart from Pro Arte Antiqua, Ars Rediviva was the only ensemble promoting early music in Czechoslovakia and one of only a few such groups in the world. In building up its repertoire and searching for the ideal interpretation of the works being performed, the ensemble was generally unable to work from source editions or recordings, since there were practically none in existence; at the end of the 1940s early music still featured only occasionally on the programmes of soloists and ensembles. There were no symposiums or master classes (at the first few we were actually teachers ourselves, even though we were still gathering experience). Specialist publications appeared only rarely and essentially discussed issues in a very general manner (Milan Munclinger's contribution in this field is still remarkable). Opinions on stylistic interpretation differed considerably in many respects and were naturally still developing; only a few at this time showed signs of vitality and authenticity.

Munclinger naturally  followed developments closely, from the legendary Paris-based Société de concerts des instruments anciens, to Harnoncourt's Concentus Musicus, which was established - under similar circumstances - only a few years after Ars Rediviva. And yet he probably felt greatest affinity with Claude Crussard, who wasn't so well known in this country. He had her recording of Charpentier which he treasured, and, in this context, he would also talk of Alvarès's Boîte à Musique, the "Parnassus" of Parisian musicians, which he probably heard about from Jean-Pierre Rampal.

At that time there were two competing poles of interpretation, which often contentiously labelled each other "the establishment" and  "les baroqueux", and choosing a route somewhere in between, Munclinger decided in the end to set off on his own. His conception, no matter how it developed over the years as he gradually gained experience, was founded from the beginning on the knowledge that, without an analysis of every individual composition and without familiarity of period performance practices, it is not possible to understand pre-Classical music or to convey to today's audiences the composer's original intentions. However, he took exception to the degradation of historically informed performance to the level of illustrative "props" and to the notion that it was an invariable dogma existing outside of time.

And so, in the following few decades, it was never possible for him to stop the process he had begun, to satisfy himself with the path he had discovered and with the tried and trusted repertoire. Milan Munclinger clearly took pleasure in what he did. He didn't like things too quiet, he enjoyed making new discoveries and experimenting, if possible, in several spheres at the same time. Apart from Ars Rediviva, he was at the heart of many other ensembles and cycles (probably his best known was Hovory s flétnou [Conversations with the Flute]). He worked with music publishers for dozens of years, including the famous Bärenreiter or IMC New York, and a number of Baroque and contemporary works which he edited (Ilja Hurník, Oldřich Korte etc.) came out in print. He completed and reconstructed works for leading European performers, a task he particularly enjoyed doing for his friend, the flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal. He conducted gramophone recordings of works by the old masters (Stamic's Orchestral Trios, Mozart's Oboe Concerto with František Hanták and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Benda's and Richter's Flute Concertos with Jean-Pierre Rampal and the Prague Chamber Orchestra). He worked as an editor and publicist - together with Dana Šetková he translated Dolmetsch's book The Interpretation of the Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries, a key work on the interpretation of early music, and gave it a wonderful, timeless commentary (1958). He helped to re-establish the Czech organisation Hudební mládež [Jeunesses Musicales] and put together concerts and a series of fascinating radio programmes for it. Unlike many others who are initially passionate about their work but fail to persevere with their endeavours, Munclinger was assiduous and tireless in everything he did.

I think that, to begin with, people closest to him didn't believe that his plans would stand the test of time. Things were difficult in the beginning, funding was a problem. Then came the first successes, enthusiastic responses from audiences at home and excellent reviews abroad. Munclinger wasn't put off by organisational obstacles, nor by the scepticism and arrogance of the uninformed. He succeeded in securing a number of world-class performers as well, who were keen to help him fulfil his objectives - Jean-Pierre Rampal, Maurice André, András Adorján, Oto Peter, Nedda Casei, Theo Altmeyer... Ars Rediviva's repertoire expanded to include around 400 works, from solo and trio sonatas to the complete set of Brandenburg Concertos, The Art of Fugue, The Musical Offering, cantatas, the St Matthew Passion, Zelenka's orchestral compositions and the Lamentations, Vivaldi's concertos, Telemann's concertos, Essercizii Musici and Tafelmusik, Rameau's trio concertos, Couperin's Apotheoses... In the Ars Rediviva Bach cycle, new works or modern premieres appeared each year, and the ensemble was sought-after by Czech and foreign radio stations and recording companies such as Supraphon, DGG, Columbia and Ariola. Perhaps the greatest response was generated by the first performance of Zelenka's "Coronation" Sonata No. 6, the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, and also Bach's Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue.

Munclinger was delighted to receive these awards but, as usual, he was already looking ahead to new projects. He would take his work with him on tour, to his country cottage in Srní, his writing desk was spilling over and his cupboards were bursting, so I was always amazed how quickly he was able to find things in that jumble of papers and notes. The way he rehearsed was also characterised by patience and perseverance. He resolutely confronted objections from some colleagues and tried to convince them that even the most excellent of instrumentalists wouldn't get very far in pre-Classical music on intuition alone. He patiently explained why ostensibly the same ornament would be played a certain way in one passage, and in a different way in another. He was teaching us and himself. But he never behaved as if he were all-knowing. Even if he did know. He could, at any given moment, quote Emanuel Bach or Quantz, Couperin, Hotteterre, Montéclair, Choquel, Muffat or other period sources. And if the most insistent of our colleagues failed to be convinced, he would reach for his bookshelves and pull out the original and read the quoted passage out loud. As far as I could tell, he was always able to argue his case calmly and objectively.

Only very few knew as well as Milan Munclinger that authenticity of performance is not only a matter of authentic instruments and playing technique, or familiarity with period performance practices. As a novice I was present when he discussed this subject with Charles Mackerras and his wife over lunch in the pub U Holubů; I was so engrossed in the conversation that the waiter took away my untouched goulash, thinking that I didn't like it. But I didn't mind about that. In all my years studying and attending lectures, I had never heard anything like it. My colleagues Karel Bidlo and František Pošta (both legendary soloists of the Czech Philharmonic in its celebrated era of Václav Talich - Rafael Kubelík - Karel Ančerl) and many others said the same thing. Munclinger presented us with such fascinating compositions that none of us could put up any resistance; we were glad to accept hard work which others would have rejected. Thanks to him I played wonderful cello continuos, like the one in Händel's Flute Sonata in A minor or in Bach's cantata Amore traditore. Even the organisers of our Bach cycle - the FOK [Prague Symphony Orchestra] concert agency - had to respect Munclinger's stringent requirements: for each concert, every recording, he wanted the best line-up, and that went for foreign musicians as well. He was lucky that he didn't have to face any bureaucracy at FOK and that the boss, wise Mr Zdražil, had great understanding for his maximalism.

I think it was Milan Munclinger's dream that Ars Rediviva would bring together a host of fine musicians for each instrument, and lots of singers, if possible, a permanent choir as well. He was aware of every talent to appear in this country or abroad, he went to practically all the concerts and also to the theatre. He followed the progress of Czech early music ensembles, and also those of Jean-François Paillard, Trevor Pinnock, Christopher Hogwood, Reinhard Goebel, Jordi Savall... When I was working on a radio programme about the French viola da gamba a while back, I clearly remember the moment he came up to me and said: "There's a programme with Savall on Austrian radio tonight, have a listen and tell me what you think." Jordi Savall was the best gamba player I had ever heard, and I think that, in the new wave of authentic interpretation, he provided that ideal combination of authenticity and vitality which came closest to what Munclinger was looking for:

"Naturally, when interpreting early music as well, knowledge of early performance practices does not mean that it can be mastered straight away: it is merely a precondition for it, but a precondition which cannot be avoided, in the same way that one can never become an artist without a knowledge of the given trade. In the same way, we cannot simplify the question of so-called stylistic reproduction by dogmatically applying a few "precepts" (generally these are wholly superficial, lacking historical documentation, merely handed down, continually and spiritlessly, such as the pretentious-sounding prejudice of so-called terraced dynamics, removing vibrato from early music, slow tempos and so on), or by relying solely on "taste and intuition". After all, our musical sensibility is neither metaphysically determined nor invariable. It continues to shape itself through our very existence, and through the music we create. Musical taste, subjected over the years to the influence of Romantic and contemporary music, will naturally be inclined to transfer acquired conventions to realms where they don't belong and which have, for the expression of something specific, other - if often related - means. Therefore, it is also necessary to examine properly the significance of certain concepts in a historical context... Here, I mean the issue of agogics, rubato and so on, or the choice of appropriate dynamics. In this case, it is certainly true that right to freedom and a bold imagination are applicable only to someone who has previously understood the rules and conventions of the music he is playing. Since, also in music, freedom does not mean anarchy and it is unthinkable without profound knowledge of the laws and without inner discipline. (Excerpt from Munclinger's commentary for Dolmetsch's book The Interpretation of the Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries)

Even during its very early years, Ars Rediviva also gave concerts outside Prague. We had all kinds of adventures, the kind of thing you'd experience travelling with a band from Herálec [the village where I was born], including unsettling car accidents. Occasionally we'd bring on problems ourselves, like when we decided to "travel light" on our tour of  Italy, without our music stands. To our surprise, we managed to get by practically everywhere, in Mantua, Padua, Lovere, Bologna and Rovigo, but then we got to Sarzana and the situation began to look quite sinister. In the end, the organisers got hold of wooden stands belonging to musicians from the local dance band, decorated with scantily clad swirling figures in gaudy colours. Even so, of course, we privately thanked our Sarzana colleagues for helping us out. In fact, our unconventional equipment probably earned us a few brownie points, particularly from the younger members of the audience.

But we enjoyed travelling round Czechoslovakia most of all, and that's not an exaggeration. I wouldn't be able to name all the places we played in. I remember Hradec Králové, Dvůr Králové, České Budějovice, Kroměříž, Rumburk, Jindřichův Hradec, Kutná Hora, Lomnice nad Popelkou, Semily, Plzeň, Děčín, Havlíčkův Brod, Nymburk, Bratislava, Nové Město na Moravě, Brno, Čáslav, Cheb, Světlá nad Sázavou, Týn nad Vltavou, Tanvald, Ústí nad Labem, Kladno, Chomutov, Most, Jihlava, Žďár nad Sázavou and, of course, Herálec. We were always keen to return to many of them and the music-lovers from some of these towns, such as Uherské Hradiště, would regularly come to Prague to hear our subscription concerts - the Club of the Friends of Music which they had going there could, with slight overstatement, in fact have been called the "Club of the Friends of Ars Rediviva". Vodňany was great, and also Sušice, where Mr Procházka was the life and soul of all the concerts down there, then there was the town of Most, with its unforgettable organiser Mr Novotný, or Strakonice, where Bohumil Kotmel and Munclinger's friend Mr Dostál taught at the famous music school. South Moravia also had its enthusiastic concert organisers - in Brno we had Mrs Zapletalová and one of the greatest scholars of Händel's work, Dr Pečman. I particularly remember a Christmas concert we did on Boxing Day (St Stephen's day) in 1963, where Věra Soukupová sang Monteverdi's Lament of Arianna and Bach arias. And Josef Hála boasted to us that, in Brno, they had a better class of harpsichord than in Prague...

From  one of Ars Rediviva’s most memorable concert tours... Stanislav Duchoň, Josef Hála and Milan Munclinger (barefoot) - Photographs © František Sláma

Ars Rediviva could never complain that it wasn't active enough. The ensemble recorded for gramophone companies, it worked with radio and television studios and recorded for film... But its true driving force was its regular Prague subscription cycle; it was this which most influenced the work of the ensemble and its individual members. It fostered new ideas and brought increasing demand on the conception, breadth and quality of the repertoire. It also gave rise to an unusual community of people, who were never merely occasional listeners; I'd have to write at least one whole chapter about them, if I knew how to. Our concerts were attended by Václav Talich, the photographer Josef Sudek, Jiří Hanzelka, the philosophers Milan and Dušan Machovec, Mrs Anna Masaryková, conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, creator of the famous Mole cartoon character Zdeněk Miler, actress Marie Tomášová, and one of the best performers of Baroque music, singer Ladislav Mráz. But we also used to get audiences from outside Prague - people came from Uherské Hradiště, Most, Strakonice, Hradec Králové, Alpirsbach, Vienna, Munich, Dresden...

Ars Rediviva subscription concerts in the Rudolfinum's Dvořák Hall (1970s): J.Hála, V.Jouza, V.Klár, B.Ludvík, V.Mach, M.Munclinger, A.Novák, L.Pospíšil, F.Pošta, J.Sládeček, F.Sláma, K.Špelina, V.Velan

We practised and rehearsed the repertoire for our first Ars Rediviva subscription cycle for more than six months. It began with a Bach programme in the Wallenstein palace on Sunday 26 December 1954 at 5.30pm. I'll never forget my first impression after entering the magnificent Ceremonial Hall. And I also remember how terribly cold it was - we didn't think there was any difference between the temperature inside the building and outside it. The hall was heated by a cast-iron bell furnace; they said they'd been heating the place all day, but it didn't seem to have done any good. Even so, there probably wasn't a single free place - the concert was packed out. The concert agency had printed little leaflets instead of tickets which had information on them about our subscription concerts. The entire cycle cost between 35 and 50 crowns, depending on the type of seat.

The reaction to our first concert reminded me somewhat of our beginnings with the Czech Chamber Orchestra. In January 1955 the second concert in the series was just as successful, as was the third (Czech, German and Italian Baroque). The latter was moved to the Strahov monastery, since we couldn't win the struggle against the cold. Václav Talich came to hear us rehearse and, when we'd finished, he analysed individual details, made comments and advised us how to go about things (I remember him going through Pergolesi like that with me). He had an excellent memory, he was full of elan and interest. The fourth concert in March 1955 was dedicated to Händel and we closed our first cycle in April with the programme The French and Belgian Baroque.

Our sell-out concerts required us eventually to move from the smaller halls to larger venues and, by the autumn of 1955, the Rudolfinum's Dvořák Hall had become our home port. It was a good choice. We performed there for more than thirty years; the size of our subscription audiences grew to a thousand and, in addition to the annual six Saturday concerts in our Bach cycle, we did regular repeat concerts on Sundays. Of the original group of four who began in the Wallenstein palace, it was just Milan Munclinger and myself in the end. The original line-up changed, it gradually stabilised and expanded to form the chamber orchestra Ars Rediviva, which had around twenty first-rate instrumentalists, the majority members of the Czech Philharmonic.

During a recording (1960s), from the left: V.Snítil, F.Sláma, M.Munclinger - Photograph for a concert brochure (Prague Spring festival 1956): M.Munclinger, V.Švihlíková, F.Sláma, S.Duchoň - Ars Rediviva, 1960s: S.Duchoň, M.Munclinger, F.Sláma, J.Hála - During a recording (1960s): M.Munclinger, J.Hála, F.Sláma - One of the last subscription concerts (1990s): J.Válek, F.Sláma - In Kutná Hora↗, 1970s: M.Munclinger, J.Válek, F.Sláma, K.Špelina - In Alpirsbach↗, 1970s: A.Novák, J.Hála, F.Herman, M.Munclinger, K.Špelina, F.Sláma, P.Verner - M.Munclinger, A.Novák, F.Sláma, 1970s - In Michaelstein↗, 1980s: A.Novák, J.Hála, F.Sláma, M.Munclinger

The cycle also incorporated premieres of vocal works from the Baroque, with regular collaboration from singers Věra Soukupová, Ladislav Mráz, Jana Jonášová, Karel Berman ... Berman's name reminds me of another, quite separate chapter in the history of Ars Rediviva, in which Milan Munclinger was very much involved - the translation of the musical texts. There were quite a few of them and it was essential to have the Czech translation for the premiere of some of the cantatas. But we couldn't have just any translations, that would be detrimental to the music. They had to be done by a clever musician who had a real feel for the Czech language and, moreover, someone who had a fertile imagination and a good dose of wit. Karel Berman proved to be masterful in this and his translation of Telemann's Canary Cantata was always a hit with audiences. I still have the Czech version of the four-part quodlibet In Praise of the Washtub by František Ringo Čech. And thirdly: Bach's wonderful cantata "Von der Vergnügsamkeit" (BWV 204), which Munclinger discovered for the listeners - in fact, not only the music but also the timeless text in a superb translation by Václav Renč, today perhaps more relevant than ever before.

Our work in Ars Rediviva kept us on our toes, both musically and spiritually. We didn't have time to notice the years slipping by; every year we took a stack of new scores away with us for the summer holidays, then September came along and the first rehearsals began at the Munclinger residence. And when we looked round the concert hall each October, it seemed to us that even our audiences stayed the same, except that these were the second and third generations, the descendants of those who came to our first subscription concert. Milan Munclinger well knew that there's no worse counsellor than an idle stereotype, and so he was constantly experimenting and innovating. But he also knew that, without continuity and the preservation of certain traditions, the Bach cycle would lose its specific character and, after a time, probably also its loyal audience. One of the most wonderful of these traditions was Munclinger's accompanying talks - or, rather, his conversations with the audience - which, for decades, not only began every Ars Rediviva concert in the Rudolfinum, but also our appearances in other Czech towns and cities. I think there was nothing to match them, nor, I suppose, will there ever be, because times have changed, along with our hierarchy of values and the way we look at the world. But I'm pretty sure that they'll never be forgotten by people who were there.

Concerts on the occasion of Ars Rediviva’s 10th, 20th, 30th and 40th anniversary - From  Ars Rediviva’s concerts at the Prague Spring festival (1956, 1964, 1967, 1975, 1982)

Munclinger always said that the accompanying talk must never degenerate into a high-brow lecture. His talks were more like chats on a given theme or period, light conversation without any trace of condescension, there was no mentor's tone in his voice, none of the obligatory tedious list of dates and facts, no raised forefinger or dramatic pauses. All his life, Munclinger fought against the myths surrounding pre-Classical music and against its naïve comparison in terms of modern aesthetics, against its rigid classification. Against the assertion by "experts" that this was "Hausmusik", and that "true and great art" was to come much later. Against those who - eruditely - failed to find dramatic climaxes and subordinate ideas, free improvisation and "real individuality" in these works. In my opinion, Munclinger was a level-headed, tolerant person, but his hackles rose whenever he came across the kind of attitude: "I've never heard of it, so it doesn't exist". In his commentary for Dolmetsch's book on musical interpretation, he once wrote: "It's the same as everywhere else, most damage is caused by semi-educated individuals whose attitude goes hand in hand with dogmatism and a fondness for applying certain hastily grasped principles about composers and works, which are governed by quite different rules [...] yet [this author] is prepared to confront ignorance and its loyal and much more dangerous allies: half-baked or distorted knowledge and, in particular, prejudice [...]"

And so, in his accompanying talks, he would brush up period anecdotes, and the butt of these jokes were often representatives of important cultural institutions and councils, ministers, directors and performers. The response from the auditorium was just as impressive as the reaction from the "victims" (but we generally only felt this later on). Many people predicted that the audience wouldn't be interested in the introductory talks and that they would only come - as elsewhere - in time for the first piece on the programme. But our audiences would always settle down in their seats with lots of time to spare, waiting in suspense, until Milan Munclinger appeared, tracing a small arc as he walked onto the concert platform, laughing softly to himself, and then he would begin.

In addition to his gift of sophisticated resourcefulness, Munclinger was also endowed with a versatile intellect and many years' experience as an instrumentalist. He could cite, straight off, passages of Bach and Händel occurring in Telemann and vice-versa. He could demonstrate on the flute or harpsichord the way in which publishers had changed the original manuscript, and he would comment on this by making ironic comparisons with interpreters of the Holy Scripture. And he had the audience eating out of his hand. We couldn't see their faces from backstage, but we knew, just from the audible response in the auditorium, exactly when the proverbial spark flashover had occurred, and people would start laughing. It never took very long. I remember one performance of Mozart's A Musical Joke (Ein musikalischer Spaß, KV 522), when Munclinger's evocative tales of the problems musicians have, ingeniously interspersed with musical glosses, literally lifted the audience out of their seats and the laughter shook the Rudolfinum to its foundations - something I'd never experienced. But I also remember the performance of the St Matthew Passion in January and February 1985. We and our regular audiences knew that, for Milan Munclinger, this was an exceptional event, the culmination of a huge lifelong ambition. He had been preparing for the premiere, using authentic sources, for decades. I saw him reading through the score and other materials on tour and between rehearsals; he brought further literature from abroad or ordered it through friends. When we began studying and rehearsing ourselves, we were totally immersed in our work and it appeared as if the audience experienced a similar kind of trance when they listened to the piece. Unwittingly, we compared these reactions to other performances of the St Matthew Passion and we realised that this was something of a miracle, and Munclinger's introductory talk unquestionably played a considerable role. Thanks to him, the people in the hall were informed of every detail, including key words in the arias or the symbolic instrumental quotations of the vocal parts. And because he knew, he understood.

Shortly afterwards, in the autumn of 1985, probably for the first time in dozens of years, we gave a subscription concert without the participation of Milan Munclinger. A few months later, displaying his typical insight, he took his leave of his public in a letter published in Koncertní život [the revue "Concert Life"]: "[...] this year - for the first time in thirty years - we were forced to change the programme for some of the concerts in the Bach cycle. Our health won't be dictated to and my illness proved to be much more stubborn than I had at first thought. We moved the programmes in which my participation was essential, to next season. (There's a bit of cunning involved as well. I am convinced that an awareness of my debt - to my public and to those wonderful works which I was particularly looking forward to - and the skills of my doctors - will give me the strength to recover fully and return to you and to the music we all need so much) [...]"

They say that, in human history, periods of aesthetic populism alternate with periods of reflection, emotional rehabilitation and renaissance perception. In my opinion, every era exhibits both trends, it's only a question of which is prevalent at any given time. Our generation was fortunate in that people's scepticism of grand theatrical gestures, in fact, encouraged a refined and developed sense of perception - audiences were capable of grasping every small detail, articulatory pause, the significance of the ornament, the tension between harmonic changes, and differences in timbre or colour contrast. And we, on the other hand, were aware that they were going through the composition with us, they responded to every idiosyncrasy, they sensed the wit and poetry of even only a few bars. Occasionally I used to hear academic discussions about audience response, that it was not meant to be important for the performer in any way, that it can't have a long-term positive effect on his performance or enhance it to any degree. But I think, however, that music really does provide a way of communicating and, in this, a partner is extremely important. The musicians used to talk about the audiences of the Bach cycle as if they were the stuff of legend, and not without reason, in my view. I remember one of our foreign guests saying to Milan Munclinger before he went back home: "I'll certainly be coming again, not only for the wonderful music, but also because of the audience. I haven't experienced anything like this in a long time."

Maybe it's because I've reached a certain age, or perhaps it's nostalgia for the times I describe here, but it seems to me that the years we are experiencing now are, on the contrary, analagous with the other period I describe above, the era of aesthetic populism. That the emperor's new clothes are more in fashion today than at any time previously. That increased emotion has dulled our ability to perceive things, in the same way that extremely spicy food overpowers flavour variety. And so the composer or performer has to employ increasingly more aggressive tactics and claim that the artist's aim was to "shock" and "agitate", throwing a few big words in for good measure (you wouldn't believe how many of these "aims" I've encountered!). Except that the decibels can't really get any more "decibelic", the effects can't get any more spectacular, and the image of the performer will only rarely trump the competition. Fortunately, however, there are still many who refuse to be part of this universal trend. Whether they play in village bands, whether they're proponents of jazz, country and western, or classical music, more than ever before, they deserve respect for courage and endurance. For their resistance to the irresistibility of the golden calf. And for their integrity towards their musician's trade and towards those for whom they perform. I am convinced that the time will come when this honesty will have much greater value, when true quality won't have to court the favour of passers-by on huge posters hyped up with slogans like "The best of...". And when people might again get used to the enjoyment of listening to silence as well...

(From the book by František Sláma From Herálec to Shangri-La. English translation: Karolina Vočadlo Hughes)

For more see Ars Rediviva Discography, Milan Munclinger in Documents and Reminiscences, Viktorie Švihlíková↗ (Czech version), František Sláma 1923 - 2004 and Sound Archive

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