Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Antonin Tucapski and his lovely wife Beryl

I found out a few days ago that two very old friends and fine musicians had passed away. I had not realised that the superb 20th century Czech composer Antonin Tucapski had died at the age of 84, having finally received the honour of total recognition by becoming composer of the year in his home country of Czechoslovakia.

He was born in 1928 in Moravia, where he had a sparkling musical career. He studied with a pupil of Janacek, and eventually himself become one of the worlds leading authorities on the life, works and philosophy of that famous Czech composer.

Middy had a fine soprano student, maybe 10 years or so older than myself who eventually went to Prague to sing with the State Opera, where she met Tony. Beryl was one of those singers whom we young vocal whippersnappers rather idolised. She had a liquid and haunting soprano voice and we all wanted to be that person - doing well, travelling to foreign and exotic parts, well in those days anything 20 miles from Middlesbrough or Saltburn was positively Caribbean !

They were to me, a magical couple, sparklingly talented, mysterious and exciting, yet all the time, having married an English woman, Tony was finding himself in a very tricky and rather an uncomfortable position with the communist leaders of the state at that time. Quite suddenly he and Beryl left the then Eastern block country and landed in the UK with only what they stood up in.

This meant that life, both professional and personal needed to start again from scratch. I imagine this was incredibly difficult, infact I have a memory of being a young innocent during the time they came, and wondering why Beryl seemed so very upset when talking with the motherly and incredibly empathetic and understanding Middy. I had no concept of their position or their suffering, or indeed their worry about the future. All I saw was this wonderfully talented couple who were now much closer, and in the UK !

As time passed Tony gained a professorship at Trinity College of Music, London, eventually becoming a very senior and much loved member of their illustrious faculty, whilst at the same time beginning to compose once again. Vocal music was something of a speciality for Tony and he has written much glorious choral music, some fantastic and magical solo song, especially in the sacred music style. He, and subsequently Beryl were devout members of the Czech Orthodox Church in London, and were full participants in the Czech community in London, helping a number of 'exiled' musicians during that difficult era.

They sometimes came out to Haslemere where I was a young teacher, and Julia Kennard and I loved their visits. Tony always wanted to walk on the Downs, he said it reminded him of the Moravian landscape of his youth and we would take a picnic, enjoy the softness of a Sussex summer and then we would all pick bags of bilberries and mushrooms, about which he was an expert. Having grown up in the austere communist times of the 40s and 50s, dried mushrooms were a staple in his family winter food. They would climb back on the train laden with paper ( and only paper - quote!) bags full of mushrooms and crab apples and bilberries.

I was so sad to hear that Tony has passed away, as had Beryl, after a long battle with cancer, it was like the end of an era, and the end of a hot and youthful summer.

Listen to the short recording of his Pater mi. It is so beautiful, contemporary, yet ancient, lyrical yet with crushing and heartfelt harmonies. If you come to my house, look behind you on the bookshelves in the sitting room. A photo of myself, Beryl and Philip sits there, taken at a concert celebrating Middy's 80th birthday.

In later life when richly deserved awards came aplenty

Beryl singing.

This is the Tony I remember, smiley, gentle and with a quiet suffering but full of imagination.



Click above for a choral treat.


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