Matěj Josef

  • Matěj Jos
Year of Birth - Death :
1922 - 1992 †
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Josef Matej was born into a family of musicians, his father was his first music teacher, instructing him in trombone playing. As a 15-year old youth, Josef Matej left for Ostrava where, following the completion of studies at the local Music and Singing Institute, he spent two years playing the trombone in a theatre orchestra. Thanks to this practical training he was in a position to enrol in the Prague Conservatoire studying - in addition to organ playing in the class of Josef Kuhn - also composition under Emil Hlobil and Zdenek Hula. In 1947 Josef Matej entered Prague' s Academy of Performing Arts, attending Jaroslav Ridky' s class of composition, from which he graduated after submitting his cantata "Choral Song", composed to words by Czech authoress Marie Pujmanova. Later on Matej was a lecturer in musicology at the Faculty of Music of the same Academy, performed in various music ensembles, particularly in the Vit Nejedly Art Ensemble, played the trombone and worked as a musicologist in numerous public functions. Owing to his propensity for windcompositions, Josef Matej has been permanently collaborating as a composer with professional wind orchestras attached to the Czechoslovak armed forces.
At the beginning of his professional career Matej' s compositions were strongly affected by his profound knowledge of and preoccupation with wind instruments, especially the trombone, drawing heavily on folk inspiration. This was, in turn, reflected not only in his popular compositions but indeed in his concertante works, too. One of Matej' s best-known compositions became his First Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra. Beginning with his First Symphony (1955), the impact of domestic folklore traditions on the composer appeared to be waning and he soon succeeded in shaping a new compositional style of his own, combining both lyrical and dramatic elements. It was a very similar emotional background which gave rise to his cycle of songs called The Barbed Sky. Hard on the heels of this work came the Triple Concerto for Trumpet, French Horn and Trombone, his captivating Third and Fifth Symphonies, devoted to the memory of the great Soviet writer Maxim Gorky.
Matej gradually expanded the range of his musical expression by his studies of Armenian, Balkan and Polish folk music. His encounter with Franz Werfel' s philosophical novel provided the main theme for his opera Forty Days of Mount Musa Dagh. While working on that opera, over a period which spanned more than twenty years, Josef Matej composed his Second Symphony, Violin Concerto and the Second String Quartet, dedicated to the memory of Franz Werfel.
As pointed out by musicologists, within the framework of a conventional tonality system in each composition Matej consistently adheres to his own chosen pattern of harmony. More importantly, over the last two decades of his life the artist had fashioned a distinct compositional style of his own, thoroughly rooted in the best traditions of Czech music.