Ježek Jaroslav

  • Ježek
Year of Birth - Death :
1906 - 1942 †
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Jaroslav Jezek studied composition at the Prague Conservatory under Josef Suk, highly cultivated composer who himself carried subjective lyricism and coloristic impressionism into the most subtle and bold modern symphonic forms but left his pupils complete freedom in their own expression or choice of direction. Jezek, who was a sickly boy and almost blind since his birth, lived from his youth completely in the world of musical imagination. He surmounted all the difficulties that his physique had put in the way of his general and musical education. He entered the Prague Conservatory at a time when the youth of the Czechoslovak republic experienced a new free life - and with it the invasion of modern dances and American jazz music. Jezek slowly elaborated a very deliberate plan to acclimatize the special rhythmic and instrumental features of jazz music in the very different world of Czech melodiousness. The Concerto for piano and orchestra, his graduation piece when he left the Conservatory in 1927, is the first proof of the seriousness of his ambition. At that time it excited the enthusiasm of the young musicians, but horrified the conservatives.

Jezek was soon fortunate in meeting two young men who succeeded in using his skill and talent in their own theatre, which performed extremely original and lively revues filled with topical political satire. Jan Werich and Jiri Voskovec had founded in Prague the \"Liberated Theatre\", which for a period of more than ten years became the stage where, in the most amusing fashion, the absurdities of our time were ridiculed and exposed in grotesque, pseudo-historical, or purely fantastic plays. These two intellectual clowns attacked, in witty dialogues, pedantic wisdom, moral hypocrisy, the inanities of totalitarianism, and the mistakes of democracy. All their improvisations were filled with the free spirit of the young democratic republic. Jezek found them innately congenial and thus became, within a short time, something like Offenbach of the Czechoslovak republic.

During the decade 1928-38, Jezek composed, for twenty revues and plays performed on this stage, numerous songs, dances, marches, and whole scenes which not only were hummed and sung by Prague youth of all classes but were highly appreciated by musical connoisseurs. There are some derivative pieces of lighter weight among them; but the best among them are perfect in their way, both artistically and technically. Even Stravinsky and Kurt Weill spoke of these compositions with the highest respect. Though Jezek actually condemned the opera as an obsolete art from, several of the scenes he composed for these revues are not too removed from the style which Busoni introduced to the stage in his still insufficiently appreciated comic opera Arlecchino.

But alongside these works, which introduced the turns of Czech melody into the rhythms of modern dances - the tangos and foxes, charlestons and rhumbas, waltzes and blues - there ran another stream of Jezek\'s compositions for orchestra and chamber groups, in which the elements of jazz music, predominant in the early compositions, slowly lost their original blatancy and combined with the bold polyrhytmics of the instrumental voices. His Fantasy for piano and Violin Concerto (both written in 1930) and especially his small piano pieces and the Violin Sonata (1933), which was performed at the festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Florence in 1935, show the attempts Jezek made to assimilate jazz rhythms into the structural movement of voices, as well as his gradual advance from atonal clusters of chords to clearer conceptions of planned modulation. This gradual simplification of his expression is most obvious in his last composition written in Prague during the September mobilization in 1938 (Rhapsody for piano) and in the compositions written in New York in 1939-41, especially Toccata, Piano Sonata, and the first movement of an unfinished string quartet. These are pieces full of lively rhythms, clearly planned, restrained in the use of occasional harmonic boldness, intentionally less provocative than his earlier work, full of distant echoes of Czech rhythms and melodies. It is a pity that these beginnings of a new and individual style were interrupted so prematurely.