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František Sláma Archive > Karel Pravoslav Sádlo

Karel Pravoslav Sádlo

(From František Sláma's book From Herálec to Shangri-La and from his last handwritten notes. English translation: Karolina Vočadlo Hughes)


Karel Pravoslav Sádlo was my guardian angel and sometimes also an archangel with a fiery sword who appeared before me at night demanding to know, his voice raised: "Why haven't you done any practice?!". Whenever I had a lesson around lunchtime, the Sádlos gave me a meal. Apart from that, the professor lent me, for an indefinite period, his own cello, music and tailcoat, he sat with me on the bench for my first few exams at the Conservatoire, mediated a lengthy engagement for me at Oldřich Nový's New Theatre, and also sent me to Eš near Pacov on a Conservatoire summer camp where, probably for the first time in my life, I had an incredibly lazy time of it. We spent our days in the middle of a dense forest, lying on our bunks philosophising, playing music, looking for mushrooms and playing football, and, fortunately, we never succumbed to any education programmes devised by the Protectorate. There were musicians there (such as members of the future Smetana Quartet Václav Neumann, Lubomír Kostecký, Jaroslav Rybenský and Antonín Kohout), and also entertainers like Jiří Vala, Luděk Kopřiva, Ferda Šafránek, Ladislav Ryšlink, Zdeněk Martínek, Erik Zámiš, Luboš Pistorius, Bóža Bezouška and Oldřich Musil. The biggest comedians were Messrs. Bezouška, Musil, Martínek and Kopřiva. Their favourite pastime was parodying their schoolmasters, actors Jaroslav Vojta, Stanislav Neumann, Jan Pivec (they had the latter down to an art) and, most of all, Václav Vydra, who would later be honoured with the title National Artist. They naturally told all kinds of jokes, from stale yarns to real crackers. Luděk Kopřiva, in particular, knew this epic poem with a title I'd be best not to utter in public. He told his tale in the grand style of old rhapsodists, with arms outstretched and with the eyes of a visionary staring wildly into the distance. We especially appreciated the fact that, when he arrived at a particularly tense moment in the narrative, he continued to keep a straight face, whereas we were rolling around on the floor, our laughter booming through the walls of the hostel.


K. P. Sádlo ... and his notes in František Sláma's student book 



The famous slogan on the Conservatoire student book: "Mistra dělá pilný cvik, noty dodá Kudelík" ("Practice makes perfect, Kudelík the effect";  the publishing house František Kudelík supplied the Conservatoire with music) - František Sláma in 1941


Karel Pravoslav Sádlo was almost the same age as my father; he was born in Prague on 5 September 1898. He had two brothers; the older one, Miloslav, was a viola player in the Philharmonic. I had experience of him later on when I was in the orchestra and he was the orchestral steward, which was an old-fashioned professional appointment, and an unrewarding task at that. They called him Sir! and it was his job to keep an eye on attendance, devise the rehearsal plan, communicate with the conductor, and see to a number of other duties. Sádlo's great-grandfather Jan was bandmaster in Liběšice, and he also taught his sons Josef and Jan to play instruments; they were later killed in a ship disaster while touring near Odessa.

K. P. Sádlo initially learned the violin with J. Brůha, and then cello with Josef Srdínko. Like a number of his contemporaries, he earned his living in a military band and he had to enlist some time in 1916. He told me about his experiences at the front, and it was along the lines of: "When you decide to go for something, you must never waver about it for a second, not even in the most critical of moments. When I was in those trenches, and we had shrapnel flying over our heads, it didn't look as if we would survive. Men prayed around me, but I said to myself: This is the moment of truth. I did survive, though, and my convictions haven't changed." He told me this when he found out that my father was an organist but also a non-believer, even though my mother tried to talk him out of it, occasionally adding: "What would God say to that, I wonder?!"

After the war, Sádlo studied at the Prague Conservatoire with Jan Burian; he graduated in 1926 under Julius Junek with Huth's Variations, performed with the Czech Philharmonic. When, the following year, Junek suddenly died and the Conservatoire's cello department found itself in a quandary, K. P. Sádlo came to the rescue and temporarily took over from him. His friendship with Jaroslav Řídký↗ began during his student days: in 1924 Řídký's composition class gave a graduation concert and Sádlo performed his Sonata in E minor for the first time. I think this piece is part of the cello repertoire to this day; I've played it and so have all of Sádlo's other pupils. Sádlo's well-known publishing company gradually brought out all of Řídký's works - it almost seemed as if that was its main purpose. This was a benevolent gesture, but Řídký undoubtedly deserved the publicity. He rewarded Sádlo by probably writing more pieces for the cello than any of his contemporaries - from simple miniatures for beginners to superb cello concertos and symphonies with concertante cello. His works were also included in the compulsory programme for the Prague Spring music competition. He thus became one of the most important composers of cello literature in the country and, moreover, he safely ushered entire generations of cello pupils through their development, from their first steps to their graduation.


The traditional Conservatoire "musical afternoons at home" held during the war years became "public evening concerts" in the post-war years. - Third photo from the left: Programme performed by Sádlo's pupils to mark the 50th birthday of composer Jaroslav Řídký - Below: Václav Talich also chose Řídký's Symfonietta for one of the Czech Chamber Orchestra's concerts at the Prague Spring festival in 1947 



Typical for Sádlo was his boundless energy and versatility in everything he did. He established the Micka Quartet in 1923 together with violinist Josef Micka (Josef Micka, brothers K. P. and M. Sádlo, Jindřich Kott). The quartet rehearsed under the supervision of Ladislav Zelenka and ultimately provided the impulse for the founding of another ensemble: the Peška Quartet, later renamed the Czechoslovak Quartet (Josef Peška, František Vohanka, Jaroslav Svoboda, K. P. Sádlo). I attended their wartime concerts and I can tell you they were brilliant. By then, however, Sádlo had recommended his pupil František Smetana for the position of cello, since he, himself, had taken over the professorial chair at the Prague Conservatoire from Bedřich Jaroš in 1938 and his teaching took up all of his time. But he didn't stop playing and, like Václav Talich, he enjoyed introducing audiences to brand new cello pieces and early Czech works (in 1937 he gave the first performance of Mysliveček's Concerto in C major). He was also successful as an organiser, he had all sorts of ideas and incredible determination. He was clearly delighted when something new came about due to his efforts, or when he succeeded where others had given up. In addition, he also published books and wrote reviews and articles.

Nevertheless, throughout his life, whatever else he did, his time and energy were chiefly directed at his pupils. As a teacher he had no rivals, not even in comparison with his predecessors Ladislav Zelenka and Bedřich Jaroš. During his time he tutored the majority of the cellists in the top Czech orchestras and chamber ensembles, and also outstanding soloists such as František Smetana and Miloš Sádlo-Zátvrzský. He worked with students of both the Conservatoire and the Academy of Music, and also with amateur enthusiasts of all ages, whom he taught privately. He was famous for his unerring instinct in the quest for talented musicians, and also for his sixth sense of each player's natural prerequisites for diverse disciplines, their disposition, their positive traits as well as weaknesses. And, of course, for his ability to made use of this gift during his lessons. The only things Sádlo wouldn't tolerate were lack of interest and lack of diligence. Probably whole generations were familiar with his favourite saying: "Talent is a natural prerequisite, but it won't survive for long without hard work." Or, as the advertising slogan on our Conservatoire student books reminded us: Practice makes perfect, Kudelík the effect.

Part of Sádlo's teaching method therefore, particularly with beginners, were his famous work notebooks, into which each of us were required to write down, hour by hour, what we had practised and how we had done it. This "how" meant that we had to think as we practised - in this way, each pupil gradually arrived at his own optimum practice routine by himself, the results of which would have to be reflected in the lesson. Sádlo was not only strict with himself and his pupils, but he also took issue with the cello playing method he had learned with Burian. He demonstrated this in relation to specific problems, for instance, the positioning of the left hand in the thumb position. Whereas, in the past, pupils were taught always to keep the left hand positioned perpendicular to the fingerboard, which generated an unnatural tension in the whole arm, Sádlo wanted us to keep our hand relaxed in every situation, even in the thumb position. To achieve a better sound, chiefly in cantilena passages, he also said we shouldn't use the fourth finger too much in middle positions if it wasn't technically essential. He couldn't abide extra notes that were audible when a pupil changed positions - he said that these were only to exist in the player's imagination. Particularly in technical passages, he therefore encouraged us to move finger positions in fourth intervals, which eliminated this vice. Sádlo's teaching methods, which were published successively, were used at all music schools. If a player continued as before, the difference was immediately obvious.

What I think chiefly predestined Sádlo to be a wonderful teacher, however, were his human qualities. He commanded complete authority over all his pupils, although it was unusual for him to fail pupils during exam time. He didn't speak very much, if at all, and when he did say something, his word was law. He also hardly ever talked about someone who wasn't in the room (whether pupil or colleague), not even positively. Lessons were meant for playing, and he always made the most of them, right up until the last minute. At the same time, Sádlo knew what to prioritise, a skill he also taught us. If someone only got a "B" in choral singing, he would say: "So what? You didn't want to be a singer, did you? There you are!" I experienced the same thing when I was offered an engagement at Oldřich Nový's theatre and I wasn't so keen on accepting the post, because I wouldn't be able to practise as much. And he immediately came back with: "That doesn't matter, what's important is for you to change your lifestyle a little and you'll get some experience as well."

I had enormous respect for Sádlo. I never dared tell him that I was still earning a little extra playing at dances with my father's band. Once we were going home from the Conservatoire after rehearsal and the lads said: "Franta, why don't you light up as well? Or are you afraid the old man might catch you at it?!". So I had a cigarette as well and we were going along the street, having a great laugh, when the "old man" appeared round the corner. He was walking along as he always did, his head up, as if he were staring at the clouds, and I said: "Maybe he didn't notice," and I shoved the cigarette into my pocket. But when Sádlo had almost walked past us, he just quipped, as if incidentally: "František, your coat's on fire." He was right - the lining of my coat was burned through. We had probably all experienced similar stressful situations from time to time, like my colleague Viktor Moučka, who was famous for his absent-mindedness. Once I had a lesson after him, and we were about to pass on the stairs, when he turned round and ran back up to the fourth floor, where the Sádlos had their apartment. He had almost made it to the door, when it opened, and the professor's arm slid out holding Viktor's bow. No sooner had Viktor grabbed it, than the door shut in silence.

Each of us knew that, whatever problems we might have, Sádlo wouldn't leave us to deal with them on our own. I remember the time when his pupil Josef Pražák was sent to a concentration camp during the war after taking in a wanted parachutist for the night. Pražák had a valuable cello, which he left in Sádlo's care. Someone took an interest in it, but Sádlo categorically declared: "No-one's playing on Pražák's cello until he comes back." Sádlo himself was later interrogated at gestapo headquarters because of it.

During the war I went for lessons at Sádlo's flat in Křemencova street at various odd times, even on Sundays at seven in the morning, or on national holidays. And I wasn't the only one to go there, there were lots of us, and a lesson might last two or three hours. When our cello year had a concert, he would invite about five friends of his, who would be our audience. He had a little platform set up in the corner of the room opposite the window where we would perform. And then it was our turn to be the audience. Sádlo was the only teacher who dared organise an entire concert with just his cello pupils performing, and his landmark birthdays were always special occasions. He would make the most of these celebrations, regarding them as an ideal opportunity for his pupils to perform in public. These concerts were generally held in the Municipal Library, and the professor put the programme together himself so that no-one would be left out. Řídký wrote his introductory five-part Zdravice (Greeting) specially for this purpose; it was often performed by several dozen cellists - almost everyone was involved, from graduates to private pupils, and from minors to the long white beards. The professor took the rehearsals, and the performance was usually conducted by Řídký and also Sádlo's son Slávek. And then it was the turn of the soloists. I remember that, at the first concert (to celebrated Sádlo's 50th), we played Bach suites: I played the D minor, Slávek played the G major, Miloš Sádlo the C major and František Smetana probably played the E flat major. The youngest one among us on that occasion, Vlasta Velan, performed Řídký's Sonata. - There were two concerts for Sádlo's 60th: one chamber concert in the Municipal Library, and another concert in the Rudolfinum. In the latter venue the Greeting introduction was played by about eighty cellists. The response to this event was such that other musicians were increasingly keen to join us, and not just people from Prague, and not only those from Sádlo's circle: players from the theatres, orchestras, chamber ensembles, soloists, fine accompanists, lay aficionados of the cello, and professionals who played different instruments altogether. The atmosphere at these "jubilee" concerts was proverbial, and people probably still remember them to this day.





K. P. Sádlo kept an eye on his pupils both during their studies and after graduation; he often had newspaper cuttings for them containing articles about their concerts or a book with a dedication inside. - On the right: Response to a concert given in honour of Sádlo's 60th birthday



When Sádlo demonstrated something on the cello, he never allowed himself to get carried away with the aim of demonstrating his own virtuosity. He'd play a phrase - for instance, a subtle or marked entry - this he did extremely well, right into his old age. His approach to detail was meant as an inspiration, he didn't want his pupils to copy him blindly. After our lesson, we packed up, then the next pupil would arrive, and when we exchanged greetings at the door, Sádlo would mutter, his head in the music again: "Cheerio!". So I was a bit taken aback when, one day, instead of "Cheerio!", I heard "Come over here, then!" The door opened and there, standing in the doorway, was the small, delicate frame of Mrs  Sádlo: "Slámeček, come and have something with us!". I wasn't so sure - during the war food was more precious than money, but Sádlo was adamant. Feeling awkward, I sat down at the table, where three plates were laid: two filled with plum dumplings, and the third was empty. This was Mrs Sádlo's. I felt dreadful, and I still do, because I'm sure she gave up her portion for me.

Probably the biggest surprise for me, though, was my first graduate concert in the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum. The stalls were quite full, which was pretty unusual. This was due to Sádlo. On this occasion, the concert wasn't organised by the Music Academy, but by the Music and Artistic Central Office, a professional agency in those days. They printed programmes and also little invitations, to which Sádlo added a few lines and sent off to about five hundred of his friends and acquaintances, mostly musicians. Without telling me, he sent off a letter to Hlinsko and Herálec as well, informing them that one of their own was graduating. He must have been extremely convincing because my countrymen responded in a way I would never have imagined. A bus was laid on, and about a hundred people arrived. And they came bearing a gift - a painting by my erstwhile form teacher at the local secondary school in Svratka. When they sat down in the first four rows of the balcony, I felt terribly faint. Fortunately, the opening ceremony was quite long and complex, so it somewhat took my mind off my stage fright. What happened next completely dissolved it. The painting was evidently meant to be presented after the first half of the concert. But the stage handler, Mr Blažek, succumbed to an otherwise atypical spell of abstractedness. He strode out with it onto the podium in the middle of Beethoven's Judas Maccabeus Variations. I stiffened and tried to indicate the mistake. Mr Blažek obstinately marched towards me, not unlike the above-mentioned biblical warrior. The audience became animated, clearly amused. In the end, the intruder was resourcefully driven off stage by my accompanist, Zuzana Růžičková, to this day I have no idea how.

That evening we went to celebrate at a wine bar called Makarská, and Sádlo dispelled any thoughts people may have had regarding his reticence. My mother was in seventh heaven, receiving all kinds of compliments, but she also chipped in with: "Yes, but I bet you don't know that Fanda is also great at digging out tree stumps!" And she was over the moon when Sádlo graciously remarked: "If you've got the knack, you'll always have it, whether it's tree stumps or cellos." When we parted company, I asked him whether I could still come and visit him for advice from time to time. He looked at me for a moment and then he said: If you're ever feeling lonely, we'll be glad to see you." - About six months later I ran into Mrs Henychová, pianist and neighbour from Svratka, who looked after the museum at Bertramka. She suggested I might like to come along and play some time, so I accepted the invitation and, with pianist Věra Čanová - for the first time without Sádlo's involvement - we put a Beethoven programme together: the F major, G major and E flat major Variations and two sonatas, the C major and A major. Of course, Sádlo was the first person I invited to Bertramka. He came up to me before the concert for a chat and remarked: "Next time, come and play it to me first." A few days later, he posted me a newspaper cutting with a review of the concert but didn't add any commentary himself. Neither of us mentioned my first step towards independence again.



Throughout the eleven years of our acquaintance, we only once came to blows. It was during preparations for the Hanuš Wihan Competition, the first ever cello tournament in the history of the Prague Spring festival, for which Sádlo again entered all his pupils from the fifth year upwards - there was no chance of negotiation. We practised performing our competition programmes nonstop all year round, during our lessons and at concerts, mostly in the Small Hall of the Rudolfinum, where the national and international rounds were held. We were each other's audiences: when we played through a piece, Sádlo commented on the manner of interpretation, he pointed out the various faults and advised us how to overcome them. When it was my turn with my Boccherini, he had a faraway look on his face. But immediately after the well-known introductory upbeat he interrupted me, exclaiming brusquely: "D'you call that an accent? Have you ever given anyone a slap in the face? Try it again and overdo it. You have to really exaggerate things in the hall." I knew he was right, and he, for his part, knew I would never be a "lumberjack", but we tried tacitly to align our differing views. I did add more force, but for Sádlo it was still not enough. So in the end I really dug the bow in, he turned round in surprise and, when he saw that spark of defiance in me, he grinned, so did I, and the fracas was over. He never forced me to do anything else after that.

Back then, in 1950, I really had to pull my socks up. I was playing in the Philharmonic and I was also preparing for my graduation concert at the Academy. But I knew that there was no getting out of the competition Sádlo had entered me for. We had agreed that I would only prepare works for one round, so there was no need to practise all the prescribed pieces. For the compulsory works I only had ready Bach, Prelude from the sixth Suite in D major, and the first movement from the Dvořák. The national round was held at the end of April, with the international competition following in May. Apart from K. P. Sádlo, the jury comprised cellists Ladislav Zelenka, Váša Černý, Kazimierz Wilkomirski from Poland, Maurice Maréchal from France, Emanuel Brabec, concertmaster from the Vienna Philharmonic, and celebrated Russian cellist Semyon Kozolupov. The competition had its surprises, including the failure of some of the favourites. Sádlo had given me a very simple task: to try my luck and find my bearings a little. Thanks to this advice, I was in a relaxed frame of mind that day when I went out there to play, and when I sat behind the screen, I almost felt as if I was at home practising. I played my pieces, packed up my cello and went off for my rehearsal with the Philharmonic. During the break the principal of the second violins Stanislav Roesel came up to me and stunned me by saying: "Vechtomov informs you that you're apparently the most successful Czech candidate. What d'you say to that?" And he gave this curious smile, so I began to think it was all a big joke. Then Josef Pražák showed me the points I'd scored, and finally Sádlo did as well, his face all lit up - he was quite different from his usual self, he even abandoned his original sober plan and wanted me to try the next round of the competition. So it was me who had to bring us back down to earth and remind him that I didn't have the full quota of works ready for the second round and that even the result so far was still much more than we had hoped. In the end the Russians totally dominated the competition, and only pupils from the Paris Conservatoire were able to keep up with them. Mstislav Rostropovich shared first place with Daniil Shafran, and Yakov Slobodkin came second along with Hubert Varron, who was barely seventeen. Behind them came Alexei Lazkov and the cheerful Annie Laffra. Her manly rough accent certainly appealed to Sádlo, but we never spoke about that.  


Left: Competition for the Hanuš Wihan Prize in 1950, jury (from the left: V. Černý, K. P. Sádlo, Chairman of the Jury L. Zelenka, Vice-Chairman of the Jury S. Kozolupov, K. Wilkomirski, E. Brabec and secretary D. Šetlíková - Middle: diploma for the 1st round of the competition with jurors' signatures - Right: Announcement of the competition winners (from the left: M. Rostropovich, H. Varron, J. Slobodkin, D. Šafran, K. P. Sádlo)  


 Three concerts held in memory of K.P.Sádlo - Obituary of K.P.Sádlo 



Karel Pravoslav Sádlo (5.9.1898 - 24.8.1971) 

cellist, teacher, editor and publicist


before 1916    member of a military band in Jaroměř  

1916 (1917?)    leaves for the front            

1919-1926    studies cello at the Prague Conservatoire with Jan Burian, later with Julius Junek

1923    establishes a Conservatoire string quartet with Josef Micka (study of the repertoire under the guidance of cellist Ladislav Zelenka)

1924   begins work as an editor; his publishing company Edition Sádlo chiefly promotes works by contemporary composers (Jaroslav Řídký, Otakar Zich, Jindřich Ferenc, Josef Machoň, Miroslav Krejčí and Jan Zelinka, among others)

1925    publishes his cello playing methods under the title Technical Studies in which, several years before publication of the famous studies by Joachim Stutschewsky, he formulates teaching methods based on modern principles

1926    graduates from the Conservatoire under Julius Junek (at his graduation concert with the Czech Philharmonic and conductor František Stupka he performs Variations on a Theme by Schumann by his classmate Gustav Huth)

1927    stands in for Julius Junek as teacher at the Prague Conservatoire

1928    establishes the Peška String Quartet with Josef Peška (renamed the Czechoslovak Quartet in 1935), with whom he performs until 1938

1938-1949      professor of the Prague Conservatoire

1946    appointed teacher at the newly founded Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (AMU); two years later is named professor at the school; he is successively appointed dean of the Music Faculty, vice-dean, head of department and, from 1961, vice-chancellor of AMU

1955-1957      artistic director of the Czech Philharmonic


Apart from his teaching and editing work, and concert and publicist commitments, K. P. Sádlo also organised various music events and concerts and, like his brother Miloslav, was involved in various professional musicians' associations. He was chairman of the Concert Artists Division within the Czechoslovak Composers' Union (SČS), and member of the Board of the SČS (from 1955).

He was one of the initiators and co-founders of the Prague Spring and of the Prague Spring competition, and he worked for many years on the festival committee. He sat on the jury of numerous important international music competitions.


Publications by K. P. Sádlo (selection):

  • Technické studie (Technical Studies, 1925)
  • Příprava nižších poloh (Exercises for the lower positions, publ. 1933)
  • Škola etud (Cello Studies, 1951/1952)



Meritorious Artist (for lifetime achievement in the teaching profession)

Pupils of K. P. Sádlo include eminent soloists and chamber musicians (Josef Chuchro, Karel Horschitz, Antonín Kohout, Viktor Moučka, Miloš Sádlo-Zátvrzský,  František Smetana), and also composers (Otakar Zich).



  • František Sláma Archive
  • Bedřich Urie: Čeští violoncellisté - 18.-20.století (Czech Cellists - 18th - 20th Centuries), Práce, Prague 1946
  • Jan Kozák and collected authors: Českoslovenští hudební umělci a komorní soubory (Czechoslovak Musicians and Chamber Ensembles), Státní hudební vydavatelství, Prague 1964
  • Československý hudební slovník osob a institucí (Czechoslovak Music Dictionary of Leading Musicians and Institutions), Vol. 2, Státní hudební vydavatelství, Prague 1965
  • Vladimír Šefl: Karel Pravoslav Sádlo, talks given at various concerts held in memory of K. P. Sádlo, 1978
  • Texts on K. P. Sádlo and articles written by him in the magazine Hudební rozhledy (František Sláma Archive)


Documents and photographs used on this page:

František Sláma Archive


Sound archive:

Karel Pravoslav Sádlo on František Sláma↗ 

(For English transcription click here.)

František Sláma on his cello teacher Karel Pravoslav Sádlo↗ 

(For English transcription click here.)


For more see the sections František Sláma 1923-2004, Czech Philharmonic and the people around it 



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