The first record pressing plant in Czechoslovakia
In 1930, the first gramophone record pressing plant was set up in Prague.
In 1927, the Prague-based company, owned by Gustav Sušický, retailing electrical appliances, radio sets and optical devices, began selling Avuston gramophones, produced by the then little-known Ultraphon firm in Amsterdam. In 1929, Ultraphon’s Berlin branch office made an offer to Gustav Sušický to become an exclusive dealer for selling gramophone records, whose production was being planned at the time. A new company, Ravitas, was established for this purpose. Initially, the discs, featuring international music, were imported to the Czech shops from Berlin. Records with Czech music would only appear later on.
Virtually from the very beginning, Ravitas, which started to operate in Czechoslovakia in 1929, released on the Ultraphon label not only records made by its parent company, Deutsche Ultraphon AG, but also, and predominantly, albums featuring original Czech music. The main shareholders and managers of Ravitas were František and Jan Valentini. At the time, other companies, including Parlophon and Odeon, were operating in Czechoslovakia, yet they could not compete for long, with the only ones that survived being The Gramophone Company, with the Columbia and His Master's Voice labels.
On 3 August 1929, N. V. Küchenmeister’s Internationale Maatschappij voor Accoustiek was set up, an overarching “parent” holding, whose shares were held by the special limited partnership Heinrich J. Küchenmeister & Co. It was divided into three subordinate holding companies, each of which controlled a variable group of affiliated companies in a number of countries in Europe. The production capacity of the Prague affiliated branch, which managed a record-making factory for the entire concern (another plant owned by the concern was located in Paris), was 5,000 records a day.
The first Ultraphon gramophone records with pieces from the Czech repertoire appeared in late 1929. They were made at the Berlin studio of the originally Dutch company by popular Prague artists, accompanied by a dance orchestra made up of musicians hailing from all over Europe (and a few American soloists too), conducted by F. A. Tichý. In the wake of the audience’s highly positive response to the first Czech albums, further discs started to be made by commuting German technicians on mobile recording equipment in Prague, at the studio in the National House in Vinohrady, leased by the Odeon company. At the same time, the licensed Czech user of the Ultraphon brand, the company Ravitas, which dealt in electrical, optical and acoustic devices, promptly began constructing its own pressing plant and recording studio in a leased building in the Holešovice quarter of Prague. The first recording sessions probably took place there in August or September 1931.
In 1930, the first gramophone record pressing plant was set up in Prague.
Germany’s Ultraphon went bankrupt and its assets were bought by Ravitas, which in 1933 started to operate as a publisher under the title Ultraphon. The ensuing Czech joint-stock company for the gramophone industry and retail, based in Prague’s Klimentská street, had the Ultraphon brand registered for Czechoslovakia and, for the first time, the Supraphon trademark for the whole world (with a few exceptions). The firm focused on domestic music and closely collaborated with reputed Czech institutions and organisations. In the 1930s and 1940s, Supraphon records (bearing SUPRAPHON U on the label) particularly contributed to the promotion of Czech classical music abroad. At the time, the company’s extensive catalogue included records systematically mapping the works of Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, and other Czech composers of international renown. The albums were recorded by distinguished Czech and foreign artists, chamber ensembles and orchestras led by noted conductors.
Ultraphon registered the Supraphon trademark – as the name of an electrical record-player!
The Esta label released recordings featuring the celebrated Slovak opera singer Janko Blaho, who had been collaborating with both Esta and Ultraphon since 1934. He performed on the Slovak National Theatre stage for over four decades, mainly in productions of works by Bedřich Smetana and W. A. Mozart. In the 1930s, he closely collaborated with Esta, making above all recordings of popular and folk music. Janko Blaho often worked with the Harry Harden Orchestra, with whom in 1938 he recorded President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk’s favourite Czech traditional song, “Ach, synku, synku” (Ah, son, son).
The performance of Bedřich Smetana’s symphonic poem My Country at the National Theatre in Prague during the time of Nazi Germany’s Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was a significant demonstration of patriotism on the part of the conductor Václav Talich and the Czech Philharmonic alike. The emotional charge of the moment gave rise to his evidently best recording of My Country, capturing the concert audience’s long ovations, followed by a spontaneously singing of the Czech national anthem. The recording of this concert, and that of Antoník Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, which was held at the National Theatre eight days later, has been preserved owing to the performances’ having been directly broadcast in several European cities. Supraphon only released the unique recordings some 72 years later, in 2011, when they were discovered at the Norwegian Radio archive. In 2012, the CD containing the recordings received the Gramophone Award, which was taken over in London by Václav Talich’s granddaughters and Supraphon representatives.
Smetana’s My Country has never been played as frequently as during the time of the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. Owing to the national manifestations in which its concerts in Prague and dozens of other cities throughout the Protectorate resulted, the occupation authorities soon banned the performance of the piece as a whole (with the sections Tábor and Blaník not being allowed at all). On 11 and 12 February 1941 – upon Joseph Goebbels’s instruction – the Czech Philharmonic gave concerts in Berlin and Dresden, and Talich duly included the entire My Country in the programme. His venture passed through and, following the performances’ great success in the Reich, Smetana’s cycle could be played in its entirety in the Protectorate too. Nevertheless, the Czech Philharmonic also had to deliver concerts for the Nazi regime: in March 1942, the orchestra played My Country for the Czech National Socialist Union Vlajka (Flag), and in April 1944 they appeared within the gala marking the “55th Birthday of the Führer Adolf Hitler”.
In October 1943, a recording of Bedřich Smetana’s My Country was made by the National Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Karel Boleslav Jirák, at the Domovina studio in Prague for the Esta label. A conductor, educator and composer, Jirák was at the helm of the radio orchestra until 1945, yet he had to withdraw from his post in the wake of his being accused of asocial and “non-Czech” behaviour. In 1947, he was invited to Chicago to serve as an instructor at the university summer music classes, and as his work met with a positive response, he stayed on in the USA. An outstanding teacher, a specialist in all styles of music, and a seasoned conductor, he would go on to train dozens of renowned artists during his tenure in America. On the other hand, the Czechoslovak government hated and renounced him up until 1968, which saw a change in the political climate. During his time in the USA, Jirák composed 34 accomplished pieces, including two symphonies, a requiem, chamber and orchestral works, as well as songs set to Czech poetry.
In May 1945, Musica antiqua bohemica, a set of records paying tribute to a significant anniversary of Charles University in Prague, was released. It represented the first relevant attempt at presenting the history of music in Bohemia. At the time, many recordings of Czech early music (Renaissance and early Baroque, in particular) were deemed to be true revelations.
The nationalisation of the majority of enterprises in Czechoslovakia in 1946 led to the devastation of a competitive environment, and the Ultraphon and Esta labels were placed together under a single roof. Three years later, Supraphon was established as the export arm of the national Gramofonové závody enterprise. The symbol of a lion with a lyre appeared on its records. The state-run Gramofonové závody controlled everything – from the development and production of the material for record pressing, the actual recording, to distribution and retail of audio discs. The entire conception complied with the unfortunate contemporary trend of a national and socialist economy and culture.
Ultraphon had registered the Supraphon trademark back in 1932 (a label for electrical record-players and, later on, records made for export), yet the well-known logo of a lion with a lyre was only created in 1949, by the designer Václav Zajíček, who won the competition announced on 8 February by the national enterprise Gramofonové závody in Prague. The competition terms included the requirement that the designs had to feature the word “Supraphon” and make it clear that the records were made in Czechoslovakia. The 24-year-old Zajíček submitted eight designs under the name “Václav Ludvík”, and one of them won.
In May 1949, a recording of Bedřich Smetana’s opera Libuše was made for Supraphon at the Czechoslovak Radio studio. The title role was portrayed by the celebrated Czech soprano Marie Podvalová, an artist dazzling in demanding dramatic roles and possessing a splendid voice, physical beauty and great theatrical talent. Marie Podvalová recorded for Supraphon more than a hundred albums, which rank among its most remarkable releases.
In July 1950, Supraphon completed at the Domovina studio in Prague what would become a famed recording of Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, as performed by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Václav Talich.
In the autumn of 1950, the post of chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic was assumed by Karel Ančerl, who would hold it for 18 years. During that time, Supraphon released numerous recordings. Oddly enough, despite the culture sphere having been under the total control of the Communist party, in addition to ideologically focused titles (which have, deservedly, fallen into oblivion), this period saw the release of many classical music recordings of great and enduring value. Paradoxically, the political support provided to classical music gave rise to projects that have proved to be timeless and, what is more, equal in quality to those produced by Western European labels at the time. In 2002, the recordings made by Karel Ančerl conducting the Czech Philharmonic returned to the audience through Supraphon’s remastered CD edition, which, under the title “Ančerl Gold Series”, encompasses 42 albums and has earned the company a number of prestigious international awards.
In 1951, Jiří Vinařický assumed responsibility for ensuring international contacts at Supraphon. The complicated political situation and the censorship in Czechoslovakia notwithstanding, he succeeded in establishing fruitful collaboration with prominent Western labels, including Polygram and EMI. Vinařický worked at Supraphon up until the middle of the 1980s.
At the beginning of 1951, the superlative Czech singer Beno Blachut recorded for Supraphon at the Domovina studio Bedřich Smetana’s opera Dalibor, alongside the National Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Jaroslav Krombholc. Over the period of 40 years, Blachut made for Czechoslovak Radio, Supraphon and Decca a hundred or so recordings of arias, songs, opera scenes and complete operas. Besides the acclaimed recording of Dalibor, the most noteworthy albums of his include those of the operas The Kiss, Rusalka, The Dogheads, Jenufa, Katya Kabanova, The Makropulos Case, The Diary of One Who Disappeared, as well as Stabat Mater, The Spectre’s Bride and the, today legendary, Czech Christmas Mass. Supraphon has also returned to Blachut’s recordings in the new millennium, re-releasing the complete operas (e.g. in 2001, a remastered Dalibor was issued on 2 CDs, half a century after it was recorded).
In the early 1950s, the first unbreakable LP records started to be sold in Czechoslovakia. Made in a factory in Loděnice, their initial quality was poor, yet Supraphon ultimately succeeded in improving them to such a degree that Czechoslovak discs were of a good enough standard to compete on markets abroad.
In the autumn of 1951, Supraphon released the first mini series of LP vinyl records, the triple album containing Bedřich Smetana’s My Country. The production of shellac discs was gradually phased out, until it was finally terminated in the early 1960s.
In 1953, the 28-year-old Jaroslav Šeda, who until 1949 worked at the Gramofonové závody, was appointed Supraphon’s director. He would hold the post for 25 years! In those turbulent times, Šeda was able to steer a course amidst the political pressures, while managing to maintain a high quality of Supraphon production. Even though, naturally, ideologically “suitable” works had to be recorded, during his tenure virtually every good composer was afforded some scope too. At the time, Supraphon’s discography also included sacred pieces and historical music, as well as opuses in line with the modern compositional trends. What is more, Supraphon under Šeda went on to establish licence trading with foreign labels, among them such large multinationals as EMI, Polygram, Sony and others. In 1974, for political reasons, Šeda had to leave Supraphon, yet the edition plans he had set years in advance continued to be adhered to afterwards.
In 1953, Czechoslovak Television launched its broadcasting activity. Until the late 1980s, Supraphon frequently collaborated with Czechoslovak Television on the creation of music programmes. A number of recordings for Supraphon albums were made in the specialised Czechoslovak Television studios. Supraphon also provided playback, which from the 1960s was amply used on Czechoslovak Television pop music programmes. Several TV programmes even had the name of Supraphon in their titles (e.g. the Supraphon Album), and co-productions of TV broadcasts of opera and operetta performances were captured on Supraphon records (The Bartered Bride, Rusalka, Die Fledermaus, etc.). Owing to Czechoslovak Television, the 1960 saw the emergence of the first video clips, visually rendering the songs that had been released on Supraphon discs.
On 6 November, the violin virtuoso Josef Suk gave his first solo concert at the Rudolfinum hall in Prague. Subsequently, the artist entered into an exclusive recording contract with Supraphon, with which, with a few exceptions, he would collaborate for over 50 years. A musician who attained great international acclaim, Suk’s Supraphon recordings, which were exported to 47 countries, received such prestigious accolades as France’s Grand Prix du Disque de l’Academie Charles Cros, the Netherlands’ Edison Award, and the Wiener Flötenuhr of the Mozart Society in Vienna. Moreover, Suk received a Columbia Gold Disc (1977), a Supraphon Gold Disc (1986) and Diamond Disc for 1,112,000 records sold (1999).
The Prague Spring festival in 1955 hosted the then 28-year-old Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who performed Bach’s Suites. The live recording of the young artist’s concert is precious indeed, given that when, at the time globally renowned, Rostropovich next recorded the pieces, in a French studio in 1991, he was 64 years of age.
On 13 March 1959, one of Supraphon’s very first stereophonic recordings was made at the Domovina studio in Prague! The album contains a performance of Leoš Janáček’s opera Katya Kabanova, featuring the singers Ludmila Komancová, Zdeněk Kroupa, Beno Blachut, Viktor Kočí and Drahomíra Tikalová, and the National Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Jaroslav Krombholc.
In March 1959, Supraphon received its first prestigious Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles Cros, for a recording of Leoš Janáček’s opera The Cunning Little Vixen, as performed by the National Theatre Orchestra in Prague, conducted by Václav Neumann, and featuring the soloists Rudolf Asmus, Květa Belanová, Antonín Votava, Libuše Domanínská, Helena Tattermuschová, and other singers. The Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles Cros has been annually awarded since 1948 for recordings that are truly outstanding, in both artistic and technical terms. L’Académie Charles Cros was founded in 1947 by a group of musicologists, critics and recording industry professionals in honour of Charles Cros (1842–1888), a French poet and pioneer in the field of sound recording technology. Owing to the high standard of the Academy’s work, the Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles Cros is the most prestigious classical music award there is. To date, Supraphon has received the prize for 18 recordings, most recently in 2006, for the 42-disc set within the Karel Ančerl Gold Edition.
In November 1959, Supraphon made at the Domovina studio a recording of Bedřich Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride, as performed by Prague’s National Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Zdeňek Chalabala, and featuring the superlative singers Drahomíra Tikalová, Jaroslava Dobrá, Jarmila Pechová, Ivo Žídek, Jaroslav Kovář, Rudolf Vonásek, Jiří Joran, Eduard Haken, Jaroslav Horáček and Václav Bednář. The complete album was released in the middle of 1960.
In June 1960, the celebrated Smetana Quartet, at the height of its powers, made a recording in the Domovina studio in Prague. Its members, Jiří Novák, Lubomír Kostecký, Antonín Kohout and Milan Škampa, chose to feature on their LP music by Franz Schubert. Indisputably the finest representative of the “Czech quartet school”, the ensemble gained renown all over the world owing to their musical faculties, artistic mastery, as well as novel performance elements (playing by heart, which came as a shock to the contemporary audience; some 40 pieces since 1949!). The Smetana Quartet, formed in 1945 and dissolved in 1989, gave more than 4,000 concerts.
In the 1960s, Supraphon ran several recording studios in Prague. The oldest of them was the one in Strahov, mainly made use of for making albums of popular music. Another, somewhat newer, studio was located in Dejvice. Records featuring the spoken word were produced at the specialised studio at the Lucerna, in the centre of Prague. Classical music was recorded in the excellent premises at the Rudolfinum. In the 1970s, Supraphon built a state-of-the-art studio, mainly designed for popular music, at the Mozarteum in Jungmannova street, in Prague 1. Some records were made at the Smetana Theatre. Later on, a new studio was built in Hrnčíře.
At the end of 1961, Supraphon recorded in Prague Antonín Dvořák’s opera Rusalka, as performed by the National Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Zdeněk Chalabala, with Milada Šubrtová in the lead role. The Water Sprite was portrayed by the charismatic singer Eduard Haken, the Prince by Ivo Žídek. In 1998, Supraphon awarded Milada Šubrtová an anniversary Platinum Disc for her performance in Rusalka on the internationally acclaimed recording, which in a number of releases has been sold on LP, MC and CD, and recently has been available for download, for more than half a century and has become one of the most successful albums in Supraphon’s history.
The development of the recording industry brought about specialities, which took the form of recordings being presented on a variety of materials. Songs were pressed on postcards and PVC foils, which were mostly attached as supplements to magazines. POP magazine in the UK, for instance, presented on such flexi discs samples of new records and interviews with musicians and singers. Supraphon too embraced this trend, and went on to produce several sets of postcards with audio recordings, which were sold in a special envelope bearing the label’s iconic logo – a lion with a lyre.
At the beginning of 1963, Supraphon recorded at the Rudolfinum a new album featuring Bedřich Smetana’s symphonic poem My Country, as performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of the globally renowned conductor Karel Ančerl.
In the autumn of 1967, Panton released the very first LP made by the gifted Czech violinist Václav Hudeček, only 17 years old and a pupil of the celebrated David Oistrakh, featuring Niccolò Paganini’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. At the age of 15, Hudeček had triumphed at a concert in London, at which he appeared opposite the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Supraphon’s archive contains 1,430 minutes of music recorded by Hudeček. His 1992 album of Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni, made with Virtuosi di Praga and the conductor Pavel Kogan, was awarded a Platinum Disc and is one of Hudeček’s most successful Supraphon projects.
On the first day of 1969, Supraphon assumed the official name of Supraphon n. p. (National Enterprise) and became an independent publishing company without a record pressing plant.
On 25 March 1969, the Supraphon set “Anthology of the Authentic Folk Forms (Authentic Bohemian, Moravian and Slovak Folklore)” won the Prize of The Art Festival in Tokyo.
In the late 1960s, magnetic recording began to be common in Czechoslovakia, yet the gramophone record as a storage medium continued to be concurrently improved too. During the course of the decade, magnetic recordings began to be released on tapes and audio cassettes. In Czechoslovakia, a number of titles were also produced on reel-to-reel tapes. The first tapes contained monophonic half- and four-track recordings, run at 9.5 cm/s. BASF, AGFA and Scotch tapes were used. Later on, in the 1980s, several dance music compilations were released on EMI tapes.
The Supraphon album featuring Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques, La Bouscarle and Réveil des oiseaux, as performed by Yvonne Loriod and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Václav Neumann, was awarded the 1969 Prix Edison de la Critique Hollandaise du Disque. Subsequently, the prestigious award went to another two Supraphon recordings: of Jacob Obrecht’s Missa super “Maria Zart” (1970), and of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au buche (1978).
In 1971, the Mozartgeheim awarded the prestigious Wiener Flötenuhr to the Supraphon album containing W. A. Mozart’s concertos for piano and orchestra, recorded by the soloist Pavel Štěpán and the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Zdeněk Mácal. Also receiving the award was the account of Mozart’s quartets for flute, violin, viola and cello, by Petr Brock, Josef Vlach, Josef Koďousek and Viktor Mouček. The recording was made for Supraphon in 1968. Supraphon also received the Wiener Flötenuhr in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1982.
So as to meet the growing demand for stereophonic records, in 1972 the Gramofonové závody in Loděnice procured an ORTOFON device. In 1974, the factory further modernised its equipment by purchasing and installing a NEUMANN VMS 70 machine, possessing completely transistor electronics. The following years saw the heyday of gramophone records, with their annual production soaring to approximately 10 million in 1974, and to almost 13.5 million in 1985.
In the spring of 1974, Supraphon received the UK’s Award of the Music Trades Association for the complete recordings of Bedřich Smetana’s choral works, made by the Prague Philharmonic Choir, led by the chorus master Josef Veselka. The label would won the prize again in 1979, for an album featuring Bohuslav Martinů’s Symphonies Nos. 1 – 6, as performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Václav Neumann.
In the autumn of 1974, after having served as director for 25 years, Jaroslav Šeda left Supraphon for political reasons. He was succeeded in the post by the then director of the Gramofonové závody, Viktor Kašák, who would remain at the helm of Supraphon until 1980.
Supraphon’s album of the complete Antonín Dvořák symphonies received the Premio della Critica Discografica Italiana 1975. The recordings, made by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Václav Neumann, had come into being between 1971 and 1973.
In 1976, Supraphon produced a number of quadraphonic recordings and released them on vinyl. As it did in the past, upon the accession of stereophony, it also put on to the market an adjustment test record. The quadraphonic recordings mainly contained symphonic music, with a small number featuring operas.
In early 1977, the Czech Philhamonic, conducted by Václav Neumann, recorded for Supraphon at the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. During the course of the 1970s, Neumann recorded all 10 Mahler symphonies, with the result being a highly acclaimed set that Supraphon would release on several occasions on LP and CD, and, over the past few years, has made available for download as well.
Supraphon representatives attended in February the announcement of the 1977 Grammy Awards at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. Its album of Antonín Dvořák’s String Quartet in F major and String Quartet in A flat major, made by the Prague Quartet, was nominated in the Best Chamber Music Performance category (the Grammy Award in the Pop Music category went to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, released by Motown Records).
In February 1978, the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles hosted the 20th edition of the Grammy Awards ceremony. Supraphon received a nomination in the Best Chamber Music Performance category for a recording of Antonín Dvořák’s String Quartet in E major and String Quartet in E flat major, as performed by the Prague Quartet, yet the award was won by David Munrow, conducting The Early Music Consort of London. By the way, the Grammy Award 1978 in the Pop Music category was given to The Eagles for the album Hotel California (Warner Music Group), while Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen (Sony Music) was voted the Song of the Year.
Supraphon’s complete album of Antonín Dvořák’s String Quartets, recorded by the Prague Quartet between 1973 and 1976, received Austria’s High Fidelity International Record Critics Award 1978. The Czech label implemented the project in co-production with Polydor International GmbH.
Supraphon received the Prix Caecilia de l'Union de la Presse Musicale Belge 1978 for its recording of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d‘Arc au buche, as performed by the Czech Philharmonic, the conductor Serge Baudo and soloists. The annual prize has been awarded by Belgian critics in collaboration with the company Music Bozar since the 1960s. Supraphon again received it in 1980, for an album of Bohuslav Martinů’s symphonies; in 1985, for Martinů’s The Miracles of Mary; and in 2011, for the Pavel Haas Quartet’s recording of Sergei Prokofiev’s string quartets.
Supraphon’s recording of Leoš Janáček’s opera From the House of the Dead, made by the National Theatre Orchestra in Prague, the conductor Bohumil Gregor and the soloists Beno Blachut, Jaroslav Horáček, Ivo Žídek, Helena Tattermuschová and others, won the Grand Prix du Disque de l'Académie du Disque Français 1978. During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Supraphon received the prize for another six albums.
In September 1978, representatives of EMI visited Prague so as to present to Supraphon for the decade-long co-operation a commemorative painting by Francis Barraud, His Master’s Voice, depicting the legendary dog Nipper listening to a phonograph. It has adorned the Supraphon headquarters ever since.
In February 1979, Supraphon received in the USA the Stereo Review’s Record of the Year Award for an album of Robert Schumann’s Concerto in A minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 54, as performed by Ivan Moravec, accompanied by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Václav Neumann.
In 1979, Supraphon’s recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s Symphonies Nos. 1 – 6, received the prestigious Diapason d'Or, a recommendation given by reviewers of Diapason magazine in France. The album was made by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Václav Neumann.
In February 1981, Supraphon won its seventh Prize of the Art Festival Tokyo, for the recording of Bedřich Smetana’s My Country, made by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Václav Smetáček.
In 1982, a Supraphon recording of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, From the New World, made in 1981 by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Václav Neumann, won in Japan the Compact Disc Top 30 prize. That year, the Japanese music critics also presented to Supraphon the Prize of The Ongakuno Tomo Sha Publishing House 1981, for its recording of W. A. Mozart’s String Quartets in C minor, K 406, and E flat major, K 614, as performed by the Smetana Quartet and the violin virtuoso Josef Suk. Supraphon had previously received the prize in 1974, for an album of Antonín Dvořák’s symphonies, and in 1980, for a disc of Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet, featuring the Smetana Quartet.
In 1982, three Supraphon recordings received the Grand Prix Audiovisuel de l'Europe de l´Academie du Disque Français: one containing Leoš Janáček’s opera From the House of the Dead, as performed by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Václav Neumann; another with Bohuslav Martinů’s The Greek Passion, rendered by the Brno State Philharmonic, under Sir Charles Mackerras; and the third featuring Arthur Honegger’s Concertino for Piano and Orchestra, as interpreted by Boris Krajný and the Prague Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Stanislav Macura.
The earliest gramophone discs were pressed by Emil Berliner in the USA from ebonite or vulcanised rubber. In 1896, the first record was made from a compound of shellac (a bonding agent) and ground shale (a filler). The expensive and scarce shellac was ultimately replaced by Novolac, a phenol-formaldehyde resin, which was produced for the Czechoslovak gramophone record industry by the Stalinovy závody (Stalin Works) in Litvínov, and used for pressing records in the factory in Loděnice between 1952 and 1954. Gramophone discs were manufactured in Loděnice until 1964. In 1952, a new pressing matter, based on vinyl chloride, started to be developed. In 1957, the composition of the components stabilised, which led to records possessing better acoustic properties – vinyl discs. The subsequent period, until 1983, saw the optimisation of the pressing material, with the resulting copolymer, KV 172, almost reaching the quality of top foreign copolymers. The greatest progress was attained in the homogeneity of batches and the preservation of even parameters between the batches.
In 1983, the Supraphon recording of Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, featuring Gabriela Beňačková, Peter Dvorský and the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Václav Neumann, was awarded the prestigious Deutscher Schallplattenpreis from the Deutsche Phono-Akademie.
Near the end of 1984, Supraphon concluded a contract of co-operation with the German record company Ariola, which selected from the label’s classical music catalogue several albums for the production of one of Europe’s first CDs. They included the Supraphon recording of Antonín Dvořák’s symphonies, made by the Czech Philharmonic, under the baton of Václav Neumann.
On 20 March 1985, Supraphon representatives received in Paris the prestigious Orphée d'Or de l'Académie du Disque Lyrique Prix Fondation Jacques Ibert for its 1984 recording of Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, made by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, and featuring the singers Drahomíra Drobková, Richard Novák and Elisabeth Söderström, and the Prague Philharmonic Choir, headed by Lubomír Mátl. From the 1960s to the 1980s, seven Supraphon releases were awarded the Orphée d'Or de l'Académie du Disque Lyrique – in addition to operas, they included the 1970 recording of Old European Carols, performed by the Prague Madrigalists, led by Miroslav Venhoda.
On 10 June 1985, Supraphon and Nippon Columbia concluded a contract on co-production of digital recordings. Previously, in 1984, Supraphon had received a Gold Disc of Nippon Columbia for its albums of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 and Smetana’s My Country. In 1985, the Japanese company provided to Supraphon its recording equipment, including the video recorder SONY U-Matic, which, however, recorded the digital audio signal. The collaboration resulted in a number of co-production projects – albums of classical music, mainly made by the Czech Philharmonic. Initially, the digital recordings were released on analogue discs and audio cassettes, yet in the middle of the 1980s a new system was placed on to the market, which markedly transformed the music industry: the compact digital disc, CD, which made digital recordings available to the general public. In May 1987, Supraphon released its first CD, containing Bedřich Smetana’s My Country, yet a year previously it had produced CDs under licence from Nippon Columbia, including one with Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.
In 1986, Supraphon placed on to the Czechoslovak market its first video cassettes – five original titles, among them a 50-minute recording of Pavel Šmok’s ballet production, to Bedřich Smetana’s and Leoš Janáček’s string quartets, as performed by the Smetana Quartet. In 1987, Supraphon released 18 new titles, in 1988, some 20 video cassettes. A newly established special enterprise, Video Supraphon, focused on the production of video recordings, above all of concerts, intended for export, and the creation of video clips.
In September 1986, the globally renowned harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková and the organist Alena Veselá recorded for Supraphon at the Rudolfinum hall in Prague Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chorale Preludes, an album that went on to gain great acclaim worldwide.
On 14 December 1989, the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House in Prague played host to the legendary Concert for the Civic Forum, which was attended by the future Czechoslovak President, Václav Havel. Marking the setting up of the first post-revolution government, the performance was given by the Czech Philharmonic and the conductor Václav Neumann, who that year had refused to communicate with the Communist mass media in protest against the persecution of the signatories of the “A Few Sentences” petition. Besides the stellar soprano Gabriela Beňačková, Neumann invited along distinguished foreign soloists to appear at the event. Supraphon recorded the concert and released in on LP, MC and CD. The recording, featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, captured the enthusiasm accompanying the Velvet Revolution, the atmosphere of hope, humanism and belief in the victory of truth. For a decade that followed, it ranked among the bestselling Supraphon titles and received a Platinum Disc.
Until 1990, Supraphon pursued publishing, editing, production and sale of gramophone records, sheet music, videos and books about music. Over the following decade, the music industry giant’s activities were considerably diminished. By a decree issued by the Ministry of Culture, the publication of books and music scores was detached within the state enterprise and was given the name Editio Supraphon. The production of records in the Loděnice plant was separated, as was the network of record shops. Lyra Pragensis was disaffiliated, and BVA, an independent company producing classical music videos, ensued.
In March 1990, the selection procedure for the new director of Supraphon was won by Zdeněk Čejka, its former employee, who in 1970 had been forced to leave the company in the wake of the launch of the “normalisation” purges after 1968. Zdeněk Čejka unexpectedly died on 5 December 1990.
In August 1990, Prague was visited by three top representatives of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) – Sir John Morgan, the new President; Ian Thomas, the Director General; and Ian Haffey, the IFPI’s legal advisor and anti-piracy co-ordinator. The objectives of their visit included assessment of the post-1989 development in Czechoslovakia and its significance for its recording industry’s collaboration with the IFPI, including in terms of abatement of the fast-expanding piracy. During his visit to Supraphon, Sir John Morgan and the label’s representatives discussed the issue of rental offices (in public libraries and department stores), stressing the necessity of settling their obligations towards copyright holders.
On 20 November 1990, Supraphon signed a contract with the French record company Vogue for 1991–1995. On this occasion, the negotiations were conducted in Prague by its President, Jean Louis Detry, and the French Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, Jean Gueguinou. The contract set forth Supraphon’s exclusive representation within the Vogue catalogue for France, Andorra and Monaco. The two companies had been co-operating since 1987, yet in the autumn of 1990 their relations were established on a solid contractual foundation. Whereas in 1989 Vogue took over 75,000 CDs, amounting to two million French francs, within three quarters of 1990 it assumed 60,000 discs, totalling the value of 1.7 million francs.
At the 25th edition of the MIDEM international music industry trade fair, Supraphon had its very own exhibition stall (participating in the fair for the first time separately from the other Czechoslovak record companies), and enjoyed ongoing interest in collaboration on the part of foreign partners, pertaining, among other things, to the possibilities of making use of the Supraphon distribution network in Czechoslovakia. The MIDEM 1991 gala evening at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes included performances by the celebrated virtuoso Sir Yehudi Menuhin, as well as the Czech violinist Josef Suk.
In 1992, Supraphon was denationalised and gradually privatised. On 6 May 1992, it was transformed from a state enterprise into a joint-stock company, with its operation consisting of four main activities. They included the release of recordings of classical and pop music and spoken word, recording technology, distribution and running of a network of 18 retail shops. Supraphon sells its products abroad through foreign distributors.
Under the title “Mon amour”, Supraphon revived the ESTA brand (known from the 1930s), with the aim to map albums of the most popular classical music works on CD, offered at lower prices, so as to enhance sales of recordings in this genre.
Bonton became Supraphon’s majority shareholder. The joint-stock company also owned the Albatros publishing house, Bonton Film, Bonton Music, Radio Bonton and other firms operating in the domain of culture. Recordings of popular music from the Supraphon archives started to be released by Bonton Music, while Supraphon would focus on classical music and spoken word. Bonton remained the proprietor of Supraphon until the autumn of 2008, when it sold its share in Sony Music / Bonton. Subsequently, Supraphon resumed the release of pop music recordings.
Supraphon prepared a special set of the complete archive recordings made by the famous Czech soprano Ema Destinnová. Following two full decades of seeking, and owing to the selfless endeavours of collectors in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy, the UK and Canada, it succeeded in tracking down all the known recordings and duly put together a set that could be chronologically arranged in a complete edition. Supraphon made an agreement with the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, which reconditioned the historical audio recordings and significantly reduced the level of crackle. The Ema Destinnová set received numerous international prizes, and was nominated for the prestigious Gramophone Award in the Historic Archive category.
In September 1994, the Czech mezzo-soprano Dagmar Pecková completed at the Domovina studio in Prague her debut album, featuring arias from W. A. Mozart’s operas, accompanied by the Prague Philharmonia, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek. Supraphon released its very first classical music video clip, of the aria “Parto, parto” from Titus. In 1995, the CD earned Dagmar Pecková a Supraphon Gold Disc.
In September 1994, Supraphon was divided into the parent company Supraphon (holding) and the subsidiary Supraphon Records, in the form of which it operated for two years. The post of director of Supraphon Records was held by the musicologist, producer and pedagogue Jiří Štilec, while the holding company was first helmed by Supraphon’s director, Vladislav Kukačka, succeeded in February 1995 by Jana Gondová, who in the 1990s returned from Canada, where she had worked for CBC Canada.
Representatives of Supraphon and Abeille Musique signed in Paris a contract on distribution. The distributors in 25 countries, with which Supraphon had entered into similar contracts, included Qualiton Imports (USA), RSK Entertainment (UK), Musikvertrieb AG (Switzerland), Diverdi Classics (Spain) and King International Inc. (Japan). Supraphon’s recordings have also been exported to Poland, Hungary, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Canada, as well as China, Korea and Taiwan, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The highest proportion of its CDs have been classical music albums, although Supraphon’s bestselling recordings in Scandinavia and Germany include the soundtrack for the Czech film version of the fairy tale Three Gifts for Cinderella (Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel), to music by Karel Svoboda.
In November 1995, Jiří Bárta completed at the Kozel chateau in West Bohemia a recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello. The renowned Czech cellist signed with Supraphon an exclusive five-year contract.
Between 1993 and 1996, Supraphon released a large-scale series of the Czech Philharmonic’s archival recordings, marking the orchestra’s 100th anniversary and encompassing its major albums for Ultraphon and Supraphon. It was the most extensive edition in the label’s history. Some of the CDs went on to receive international accolades, including the prestigious Gramophone Historic Archive Award.
In March 1996, the Czech violinist Gabriela Demeterová terminated her collaboration with Panton and signed a contract with Supraphon, for which over the next decade she would record several acclaimed albums. One of her first CDs featured Heinrich Franz Biber’s Biblical Sonatas. Supraphon also released a video clip, presenting Gabriela Demeterová in a casual way, which in the middle of the 1990s boosted the artist’s popularity, as well as aroused the interest on the part of TV creators.
The erasure from the Companies Register resulted in the end of Supraphon’s division into the parent (holding) Supraphon and the subsidiary Supraphon Records. The succession institution was the joint-stock company SUPRAPHON, headed by the director, Jana Gondová, until September 2009, when she left for Canada to join her family.
The Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, recorded at the Rudolfinum hall in Prague Leoš Janáček’s opera Katya Kabanova, starring the world-renowned soprano Gabriela Beňačková in the title role. Released on two CDs in the autumn of 1997, it subsequently won a number of prestigious prizes, including the Cannes Classical Award and the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik. It also received a nomination for the Grammy Awards.
In March 1998, Supraphon released its first DVD. Titled Dreams and Journeys, it featured an exclusive, visually refined programme, linking top-notch recordings of works by Mozart, Chopin, Dvořák, Mahler and Smetana with remarkable places in Bohemia and Moravia, which had been visited by the respective composers and at which they lived or wrote music. By accomplishing the project, Supraphon was a pioneer among European labels in releasing DVD titles that featured classical music!
The release of the album Iva Bittová Classic was the fruit of the collaboration between the Škampa Quartet and the Czech cross-over artist and composer. The CD met with great acclaim, with the critics highlighting its masterful blend of Roma melodies, Moravian folk and jazz music.
On 27 October 1998, the Supraphon archive was pronounced a cultural monument! The Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic registered the company’s audio recordings dating from between 1929 and 1992 in the list of historic relics. The institute of cultural monuments is an important tool serving for the protection and promotion of the Czech archival heritage.
Supraphon’s recording of Leoš Janáček opera Katya Kabanova received the prestigious Cannes Classical Award at the MIDEM international music industry trade fair. The CD featured Gabriela Beňačková, Dagmar Pecková, Eva Randová and other singers, and the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras.
Supraphon released the CD Codex Franus, recorded by the Schola Gregoriana Pragensia ensemble and presenting the repertoire of the Czech Utraquists’ hymn-book, dating from the early 16th century. In October 1999, the album was awarded the Choc du Monde de la Musique.
In the presence of the media, the Škampa Quartet introduced its new album at the Adria Palace in Prague. The ensemble, who had exclusively recorded for Supraphon since 1992, and was a quartet in residence at Wigmore Hall in London, had received the Supraphon Gold Disc and a number of international accolades, including the Netherlands’ Prix Charles Hennen, the Czech Chamber Music Society Prize, and the Royal Philharmonic Society Award. During the launch of the CD, featuring Leoš Janáček’s string quartets, the news broke of the terrorist attack against the World Trade Center in New York City.
A Supraphon CD appeared among the titles nominated within the 44th Grammy Awards ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It was a recording of Leoš Janáček’s opera Šárka, made by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, with the title role sung by Eva Urbanová. Supraphon’s Šárka was also shortlisted for the Gramophone Award 2002 and the Cannes Classical Award 2002.
The superlative violinist Pavel Šporcl took over the Platinum Disc at a concert in Prague, which rounded off his tour presenting his first Supraphon recording. His “yellow-blue” album was one of the bestselling classical music CDs in the Czech Republic (14,000 discs sold).
Cannes Classical Awards were handed over to Supraphon representatives at the MIDEM fair for the recording of Antonín Dvořák’s Legends, Op. 59, made by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, and the CD featuring Jan Dismas Zelenka’s Melodrama de Sancto Wenceslao, as performed by Musica Florea, Musica Aeterna, Ensemble Philidor and Boni Pueri.
The renowned Czech harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková was honoured for her lifelong merit for Czech culture and for the recording of J. S. Bach’s Harpsichord Concertos, made with the Prague Chamber Soloists and the conductor Václav Neumann, re-released in 2002. She also received a Supraphon Jubilee Platinum Disc for her immense contribution to the label’s renown.
Supraphon released a 2-CD pack with Leoš Janáček’s orchestral works, including the Overtures to the operas Katya Kabanova, Taras Bulba and Šárka, and the Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen, as performed by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. The album met with the greatest interest among music lovers in the UK and the USA.
Supraphon invited along for collaboration the distinguished British conductor and specialist in the music of the pre-classical period Christopher Hogwood. He and the Czech Philharmonic recorded at the Rudolfinum in Prague Bohuslav Martinů’s pieces Le Raid merveilleux and La revue de cuisine.
The Supraphon recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4, made by the Czech Philharmonic and the conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, was nominated in Los Angeles at the 47th Grammy Awards in the Best Orchestral Performance category. It was a major achievement, also with regard to the fact that Martinů’s music is not as globally known as, for instance, that of Leoš Janáček. That year’s award went to a recording of John Adams’s On The Transmigration Of Souls, dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Supraphon began the release of a series of remastered recordings made by Václav Talich, one of the major 20th-century Czech conductors, who primarily worked with the National Theatre Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic, elevating their performance artistry to a truly global level. Between 1919 and 1950, he made numerous remarkable recordings for Ultraphon and, later on, Supraphon. In 1946, Talich founded the legendary Czech Chamber Orchestra and co-formed the Slovak Philharmonic. As a conductor, he also worked in Sweden and Scotland.
Supraphon released its first recording made by the Pavel Haas Quartet, who duly signed with the label an exclusive contract for another three albums. Containing music by Pavel Haas and Leoš Janáček, in 2006 and 2007 the young ensemble’s debut CD won a number of prestigious international prizes, including the Classic FM Gramophone Award, the BBC Music Magazine Award, the BBC Radio 3 Disc of the Week, Classics Today Disc of the Month, The Strad Selection UK and the Supersonic Award of Pizzicato. The album elevated the Pavel Haas Quartet among the world’s acclaimed classical artists, and in its wake, they were named an ensemble in residence at BBC Radio 3. The CD also received a Supraphon Gold Disc.
In May 2006, Supraphon released the Smetana Trio’s recording of Antonín Dvořák’s piano trios No. 3 in F minor and No. 4 “Dumky”. A year later, the CD won the BBC Music Magazine Chamber Award within the public voting.
The Pavel Haas Quartet received their first prestigious Gramophone Award for their debut Supraphon album featuring string quartets by Leoš Janáček (No. 2 “Intimate Letters) and Pavel Haas (No. 2 “From the Monkey Mountains”). Since that time, the now world-renowned ensemble have gone on to garner other significant accolades, including the BBC Music Magazine Award 2008.
The Pavel Haas Quartet made another recording of string quartets by Leoš Janáček No. 1 and Pavel Haas Nos 1&3, which went on to be shortlisted for the Gramophone Award. In 2009, the CD won the Cannes Classical Award within the MIDEM international music fair.
On 11 December 2008, the Rudolfinum hall in Prague hosted the premiere of one of Bohuslav Martinů’s major works. The libretto of the opera Juliette was originally written in Czech, yet – with the aim to gain for it appropriate international publicity – the composer furnished it with a French libretto, expecting to have excerpts from the most vital scenes broadcast by French Radio. At the time, however, Three Fragments from the opera Juliette (The Key to Dreams) was not broadcast. It would be another 70 years until it was performed. The Three Fragments were brought to life by Sir Charles Mackerras, who conducted the Czech Philharmonic and the soloists Magdalena Kožená and Steve Davislim. In 2009, Supraphon’s live recording of the unique concert received a number of prestigious accolades, including the Gramophone Award, the Diapason d’Or de l’Année, Le Diamant d’Opera and the ECHO Klassik.
In January 2009, two years prior to the passing away of the violin virtuoso Josef Suk, Supraphon released his final studio recording, made in the previous autumn at the Bohemia Music Studio in Prague. It contained accounts of Antonín Dvořák’s Miniatures, Bagatelles and Terzetto, and Josef Suk’s Piano Quartet in A minor. In addition to Suk, the album was created by the violinist Miroslav Ambroš, the cellist Jiří Bárta, the violist Karel Untermüller and the pianist Jan Simon. During the CD’s launch in February, Josef Suk was handed over a Supraphon Jubilee Platinum Disc in recognition of 55 years of his collaboration with the company. (The Supraphon archive contains some 410 recordings made by Josef Suk, totalling 6,259 minutes of music!)
The post of Supraphon’s director was assumed by Iva Milerová. She started to work in the music industry in 1992, upon the opening of the Czech office of BMG Ariola; from 1995, she had served in various functions at the branch of Warner Music, which she helmed from 2004 to 2009.
January 2010 saw the release of a recording of Antonín Dvořák’s symphonic poems, made by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, a true connoisseur and champion of Czech music. In the same year, the album received the Gramophone Award. Regrettably, Sir Charles died in July 2010 and could not take it over. The CD is thus the legendary conductor’s final account of Dvořák’s music, as well as a towering achievement, rounding off his long-term collaboration with the Czech Philharmonic and the Supraphon label.
Supraphon and Warner Music for Central and Eastern Europe entered into an exclusive licence agreement, pursuant to which Supraphon would sell and distribute the Warner Music Group’s repertoire on CDs and DVDs in the Czech Republic. The contract, also pertaining to new production and catalogues titles, came into force and effect on 1 April 2010. Within the Czech Republic, Supraphon and Warner Music exclusively co-operate in secondary use and activities associated with licence trading.
On 27 April 2010, Sir Charles Mackerras received from Supraphon two Gold and two Platinum Discs for the conductor’s bestselling CDs, featuring Bedřich Smetana’s My Country, Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, Leoš Janáček’s symphonies, overtures and suites from operas, and Bohuslav Martinů’s Three Fragments from Juliette. Sir Charles also received the Artis Bohemiae Amicis prize from the Ministry of Culture, for his championing of Czech music all over the world.
The Pavel Haas Quartet’s third Supraphon recording, featuring Sergey Prokofiev’s string quartets, was nominated for the Gramophone Award. Even though it did not receive the accolade, the CD earned other acclaim. In November 2010, within a ceremony in Paris, the Pavel Haas Quartet took over the prestigious French Diapason d’Or de l’Année.
Following the passing of Sir Charles Mackerras in July 2010, another musical giant – the violin virtuoso Josef Suk passed away at the age of 81. The great-grandson of Antonín Dvořák and grandson of the composer Josef Suk was one of the greatest of Czech violinists. Josef Suk made his first recordings for Supraphon back in November 1953.
The Czech jazz label Animal Music concluded a contract on partnership with Supraphon, which became the sole distributor of its titles in the Czech Republic and beyond. The agreement applied to both standard discs and digital formats.
The fourth recording of the Pavel Haas Quartet, marking their return to the Czech repertoire, contains Antonín Dvořák’s best-known string quartets – No. 13 in G major and No. 12. in F major “American”. The CD met with an enthusiastic response, with the critics praising the PHQ as “the most exciting string quartet”. The recording received the Gramophone Award in the chamber category and, most significantly, it was elected Recording of the Year 2011.
Supraphon and the Pavel Haas Quartet entered into an exclusive contract, on the basis of which the label was stipulated as the ensemble’s sole representative in the Czech and Slovak Republics. In the 2012/13 season, the Pavel Haas Quartet gave concerts at the Lípa Musica festival, visited Bratislava and appeared within a series of subscription chamber concerts of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. In the 2013/14 season, the PHQ were named ensemble-in-residence of the Czech Philharmonic and gave three performances at the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum within the concerts held by the Czech Chamber Music Society. The season’s highlights were the concerts the Pavel Haas Quartet gave within the Prague Spring and the Dvořák Prague festivals.
The Czech Philharmonic’s sound, renown and international triumphs, as well as its first recordings, are organically linked with the conductor Václav Talich. The performance of Bedřich Smetana’s My Country on 5 June 1939 at the National Theatre in Prague, during the time of the Nazi Germany’s Protectorate, was a bold manifestation of his patriotism. The emotional charge of the moment gave rise to probably his best album of the piece. The recording of the concert, as well as of the performance of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, which the National Theatre hosted four days later, has been preserved owing to their having been directly broadcast on the radio in several European cities. The Supraphon recording was released in August 2011, and the next year it received the Gramophone Special Historic Award.
The baritone Adam Plachetka, alongside the Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Roman Válek, recorded his debut album for Supraphon, featuring arias from G. F. Handel’s oratorios.
Vilém Veverka, the winner of a number of international competitions and an acclaimed soloist, releases his album debut. The repertoire for solo oboe is sparse, yet oboists can boast of a true gem: the inspiration brought to Benjamin Britten by the oboe and the verse of the Roman poet Ovid gave rise to the cycle Six Metamorphoses. A similar abundance of characters is also rendered by the collection of Twelve Fantasias by G. P. Telemann, one of the most productive composers of all time. A repertoire spanning the period between Baroque and contemporary music is one of the most salient features of Vilém Veverka.
In the spring of 2013, Supraphon released the debut album made by the gifted violinist Josef Špaček. The CD, featuring works by Prokofiev, Smetana and Janáček, met with critical acclaim at home and abroad like. A rising violin star, since 2011 Josef Špaček has been concert master of the Czech Philharmonic.
The violin virtuoso Pavel Šporcl celebrated his 40th birthday by recording a 3-CD album within Supraphon’s prestigious Gold Collection series (the one and only classical music artist to have done so). The label awarded him the Diamond Disc for a decade of fruitful co-operation. Šporcl’s albums are among the bestselling Supraphon releases in the third millennium.
In November 2013, Supraphon released the first modern-time classical music LP. It contained the legendary 1952 recording of Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, as performed by Mstislav Rostropovich and the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Václav Talich. Rostropovich himself deemed the recording to be his very best. The LP was produced at the GZ Media plant in Loděnice in the analogue format.
After a pause of several years, the opera star Dagmar Pecková returned to Supraphon. Following a CD featuring a compilation of songs by Mahler, Wagner, Brahms and Berio, a year later, she recorded the ambitious album of songs Sinful Women, which she also presented at concerts.
The Pavel Haas Quartet made their fifth studio album, containing works by Franz Schubert, with a guest, the cellist Danjul Ishizak, with whom they recorded the String Quintet in C major. The CD earned great critical acclaim and went on to win the Gramophone Award for 2014, amidst fierce competition (the other nominated recordings included those made by Steven Isserlis & Robert Levin and The London Haydn Quartet).
After their Janáček quartets and their award-winning Dvořák (Gramophone Award 2011 „Recording of the Year“), the Pavel Haas Quartet put all their energy to the service of the music of Bedřich Smetana. They recorded Smetana's String Quartet No. 1 „From My life“ and String Quartet No. 2. For the Pavel Haas Quartet, Smetana's music is an obvious and clear choice, not a sudden revelation; it is „only“ the concept of the music itself that is revelatory.
The famous Czech pianist Ivan Moravec died on 27 th July 2015 in Prague. Living to be 84 years old, he became the only Czech among the seventy piano players included into the prestigious CD edition Great Pianists of the 20th century. He collaborated with the Supraphon publishing house from the late 1950s and his recordings received many international awards as well as gold and platinum records for successful sales.
On 27 August 2015, the British music monthly announced the winners of the Gramophone Awards 2015. The Pavel Haas Quartet’s Supraphon album featuring Smetana works has prevailed in the Chamber category. The Gramophone Awards ceremony took place on 17 September 2015 at St John's, Smith Square, London. This year, the Pavel Haas Quartet took over the accolade in person and performed within the gala event.
By the end of the year, they received annother prestigious accolade – Presto Classical Recording of the Year.
Just like mountain climbers who striving to conquer the summits of high mountains, musicians also need challenges. The next summit that Pavel Šporcl has chosen to attempt is one that figuratively reaches to the heavens. Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo have already put the technique and musicianship of quite a few violinists to the test. Pavel Šporcl's interpretations will certainly be worthy of repeated listening for their technically refinement and stylistically purity, while also offering something personal and unique.
The music label opened in Jungmanovo náměstí in the centre of Prague a new bricks-and-mortar shop, the SUPRAPHON Musicpoint. “Even though digital distribution has been a growing trend, many music lovers still give preference to listening to CDs and LPs. In the wake of the launch of the Supraphonline.cz digital service, Supraphon has decided to return to selling physical recordings in its own shop,” said Iva Milerová, Supraphon’s director.
The complete set of Bohuslav Martinů's piano trios affords a fascinating insight into the constant transformations of his musical idiom from the early 1930s to the 1950s, also giving testimony to the composer as a human and his particular mindset. It is the first new Supraphon album of the complete Martinů piano trios in more than 30 years.
Over the 14 years since forming, the Pavel Haas Quartet have gained enormous international acclaim. The prestigious prizes they have received include five Gramophone Awards, most recently last year. The ensemble’s latest album, featuring Bedřich Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, “From My Life”, and String Quartet No. 2 in D minor, has obtained the BBC Music Magazine Award in the Chamber category.
In 2016, Supraphon continued to co-operate with the conductor Tomáš Netopil, whose previous albums had met with critical acclaim, which included Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice. That year, the label released his recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s opera Ariane, as well as the orchestral suites from Janáček’s Jenufa, Katya Kabanova and Fate (in co-production with Czech Radio).
An album of Bohuslav Martinů’s Cantatas was released 60 years since their first Supraphon recording, on LP, as performed by the Czech Choir and the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir, conducted by the chorus master Jan Kühn. Supported by the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation, the new album presents the cantatas interpreted in top quality and in line with the composer’s original notion. Besides the Prague Philharmonic Choir, conducted by Lukáš Vasilek, the CD features a number of distinguished soloists, including the soprano Pavla Vykopalová, the baritone Jiří Brückler and the pianist Ivo Kahánek, as well as members of the Bennewitz Quartet, the narrator Jaromír Meduna and other artists.
On 25th January 2017 (and in subsequent performances of 26th and 27th January), the Czech Philharmonic introduced The Epic of Gilgamesh by Bohuslav Martinů in the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolphinum. Within these three concerts, a recording was made for the Supraphon publishing house that will appear in autumn 2017 as the very first recording of Martinů’s original version sung in English.
Outstanding musicians took part in this rendition of the work conceived for a narrator, vocal soloists, choir and orchestra: the British soprano Lucy Crowe, the British tenor Andrew Staples, the Czech basso Jan Martiník, the Australian baritone Derek Welton and the Prague Philharmonic Choir prepared by the choirmaster Lukáš Vasilek. The British actor and director Simon Callow took on the role of the narrator. Both the concerts and the recording were made in collaboration with the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation and using the critical edition of the score published by the Bohuslav Martinů Institute.
The mezzo-soprano Dagmar Pecková has appeared on the world's most prominent stages as an artist acclaimed as a refined performer of music by Mozart, Mahler, Bizet. One of her dreams, to make an album of Kurt Weill's songs, has come true, 25 years after she portrayed at the Stuttgart Opera the lead female role in the opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny. The singular poetics of Weill's songs, a fabulous orchestra and splendid arrangements blending classical music and jazz – and, of course, Dagmar Pecková, who has never been „just“ a diva, but a singer who makes her dreams come true and does everything with great enthusiasm.
On Wednesday 19 April 2017, the pianist Jitka Čechová, a member of the Smetana Trio, took over at Kings Place in London the BBC Music Magazine Chamber Award for the album of the complete Bohuslav Martinů piano trios. It was the second time the ensemble has won the prestigious accolade, following the one in 2007, for its recording of Antonín Dvořák’s trios. The Smetana Trio’s album featuring Bohuslav Martinů’s music has garnered international acclaim ever since its release: it has previously received the Diapason d’Or and has been named BBC Music Magazine’s Disc of the Month, the Sunday Times’ Album of the Week and Harmonie’s CHOICE.
On 21 April 2017, Supraphon re-released a recording of Bach’s harpsichord concertos to mark the 90th birthday of the legendary harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková. The artist made it during the turbulent time of the Prague Spring and the subsequent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. The world-renowned harpsichordist collaborated on the project with the Prague Chamber Soloists, conducted by Václav Neumann.
On 31 May, Jiří Bělohlávek (24. 2. 1946 – 31. 5. 2017), the most acclaimed contemporary Czech conductor, died at the age of 71, following a long illness. His departure has marked an end to one of the major chapters of Czech and global musical culture. Owing to his blending extraordinary musicianship, diligence and attention to detail, he has left behind an immense legacy, whose significance has far transcended the borders of his homeland. He worked with the world’s most prominent orchestras, made numerous recordings and, as an educator, he nurtured a whole generation of young Czech conductors. As Jiří Bělohlávek himself confessed, music was the sense and joy of his life. His achievements were even praised by the British Queen Elizabeth II, who five years ago awarded him the Order of the British Empire for services to music. Jiří Bělohlávek remained active until the very end of his life. Pursuing many plans, fate prevented some of his musical dreams from coming true. His endeavours were captured on a plethora of recordings, which in many cases will remain a benchmark, and his accomplishments will continue to inspire further generations of musicians and listeners alike.
Zuzana Růžičková, an esteemed harpsichordist and music educator, died after a short illness. She was 90 years of age.
Zuzana Růžičková recorded some 35 albums, featuring the complete harpsichord works of J. S. Bach. From 1979 to 1990 she was a soloist of the Czech Philharmonic. She received numerous other accolades, including four Grands Prix du Disque Académie Charles Cros. In 2003, she was decorated with the honour of Chevalier des Arts et des Letters, and received the Medal of Merit from the Czech President.
Seven years after they triumphed with Dvořák’s quartets (Gramophone Award Recording of the Year), the Pavel Haas Quartet have returned to Dvořák. For the recording of his quintets, they invited along two guests: the Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg (winner of the 2013 Queen Elisabeth Competition) and one of the PHQ founding members, the violist Pavel Nikl.
BBC Music Magazine choose this new album as the Recording of the Month and said: „Excellently recorded, these performances are among the most memorable I have encountered in recent years.“
In collaboration with Czech Radio, Supraphon releases on 16 November 2017 an album made up of a new recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s Bouquet of Flowers and the premiere studio recording of Jan Novák’s Philharmonic Dances. Available on both CD and for download, it features the two works’ splendid performance by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tomáš Netopil, the solo singers Kateřina Kněžíková, Michaela Kapustová, Jaroslav Březina and Adam Plachetka, the Prague Philharmonic Choir and the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir.
Since its publishing, the recording of Martinů’s complete Cantatas from the Czech Highlands created by The Prague Philharmonic Choir under the leadership of Lukáš Vasilek has been a roaring success on international basis. The album was selected Editor’s Choice by two of the most important British magazines focused on classical music, the Gramophone and the BBC Music Magazine. The recording has appeared among three albums nominated for the BBC Music Magazine Award in the category of choral works (Choral Award).
On 14th April, Milan Škampa, the acclaimed violist and a member of the Smetana Quartet, died at the age of 89.
Milan Škampa was born in 1928 in Prague into a family of musicians. First of all he studied violin and became a soloist of the Czech Radio Orchestra at the age of 16. A few years later he switched to playing the viola and joined the internationally renowned Smetana Quartet in 1956.
The Smetana Quartet was for the period of 43 years one of the world’s leading ensembles. Its superb performances were captured on more than 150 gramophone records, the ensemble gave thousands of concerts in some sixty countries throughout Europe, America and Asia, and was repeatedly invited to the most prestigious festivals and recording studios.
At the end of the sixties, Milan Škampa became a professor at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He was esteemed as a great connoisseur of Janáček's music.
On April 20th 2018, Supraphon released a legendary recording of the Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 „From the New World“ with Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Václav Neumann which was made in 1972. The recording is available not only on vinyl but also in top digital quality.
With support from the State Fund of Culture and the National Museum, Supraphon released an extraordinary album of Antonín Dvořák’s Moravian Duets. The entire cycle of folk poetry settings has been recorded on the composer’s very own 1879 Bösendorfer piano, a precious item maintained at the Antonín Dvořák Museum in Prague. The album features internationally renowned young artists, all of them possessing a great sense for the grace of Dvořák’s songs, as well as the singular tone qualities of the instrument, once touched by the maestro himself. The soprano Simona Šaturová, the mezzo-soprano Markéta Cukrová and the tenor Petr Nekoranec were accompanied on Dvořák’s piano by Vojtěch Spurný.
Supraphon released an exquisite set of Jiří Bělohlávek’s pivotal and unknown recordings alike. Made up of 8 CDs, the compilation, titled Jiří Bělohlávek – Recollection, pays tribute to the most noted Czech conductor of the past half a century. “The selection of Jiří Bělohlávek’s recordings was made less than a year after his passing away. It above all serves to recollect the extraordinary musician and human,” said Matouš Vlčinský, Supraphon’s producer.
The 8CD set contains recordings of a number of pieces (by Mozart, Ravel, Mahler, Bartók) that serve to document the extraordinarily wide range of the conductor’s repertoire.
Pavel Haas Quartet received their sixth Gramophone Award. The album with Antonín Dvořák’s Quintets, Opp. 81 and 97, also features special guests: the Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg (the winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2013) and the violist Pavel Nikl, one of the ensemble’s founding members. The Pavel Haas Quartet’s being at home with Dvořák’s music has also been confirmed by other accolades they have received for the recording (Diapason d’Or, Choc de Classica, BBC Music Magazine Recording of the Month, Presto Classical Recording of the Year etc.).
Supraphon released a double album, capturing the performance of Radek Baborák, the Baborák Ensemble, the hornist Radovan Vlatković, the oboist Clara Dent-Bogányi, the flautist Walter Auer and the bassoonist Bence Bogányi of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante and music for horn.
One of the most important events in classical music of autumn 2018 was the release of the world premiere recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s pastoral opera What Men Live By, wonderfully performed by Jiří Bělohlávek with the Czech Philharmonic and a whole host of important soloists. It is the first professional recording of this moving one-act opera made from three concert performances in December 2014. What Men Live By was released together with Martinů’s Symphony No. 1, recorded in January 2016.
The legendary recording of Bedřich Smetana's My Country performed by Czech Philharmonic conducted by Rafael Kubelík from the opening concert of the Prague Spring Festival 1990 was released on vinyl (180g virgin vinyl, DMM cutting).
On 2 February 2019, the UK Czech music expert, musicologist, journalist and music organizer Graham Melville-Mason died at the age of 85. He was the only non-Czech member of the artistic board of the Prague Spring International Music Festival and headed the UK’s Dvořák Society. Czech music became the main focus of his professional and personal life following his retirement in 1989. He dedicated himself to the works of Czech masters and key contemporary composers; he maintained numerous friendships with Czech musicians. He studied Czech culture, he drove a Škoda and could speak Czech.
The prestigious Kurt Weill Fest first took place in 1993 in Dessau, the composer’s birthplace. The festival encompasses exhibitions, lectures and performances of opera, classical and contemporary music. The 2019’s edition of the internationally renowned festival will be opened by the Czech mezzo-soprano Dagmar Pecková’s show, titled Wanted, directed and designed by Michal and Šimon Caban. In addition to Pecková, the performance will feature the baritone Jiří Hájek, the pianist and conductor Jan Kučera, the Epoque Quartet & Orchestra and the Miroslav Hloucal Jazz Band.
The album of Bohuslav Martinů's Songs recorded by three renowned artists Martina Janková, Tomáš Král and Ivo Kahánek received a great review together with Diapason d'Or in the April edition of Diapason magazine.
The internationally acclaimed Smetana Trio made a new recording of three gems of chambre music –piano trios by Zemlinsky, Rachmaninov and Arensky, which was released in March 2019. This album was selected as the BBC Music Magazine Chamber Choice (June issue).
The Jan Bartoš's new album featuring Janáček's Piano Works received a wonderful review together with Editor's Choice in Gramophone September issue. This is the third Bartoš’s album released by Supraphon, the previous albums of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s works have met with great acclaim too.
On 27 September 2019, Supraphon released the album featuring Antonín Dvořák's and Bohuslav Martinů's Piano Concertos, as performed by an extraordinary constellation of musicians: Ivo Kahánek and Bamberger Symphoniker conducted by Jakub Hrůša. The album has become the BBC Radio 3 Disc of the Week and has received accolades such as BBC Music Magazine Recording of the Month, Choix de Classique HD and a nomination for BBC Music Magazine Award.
The most significant pop-music singer Karel Gott died at the age of 80. The relation between Karel Gott and Supraphon was truly extraordinary: almost 6 decades of collaboration, 300 albums and around 1.000 songs he recorded. Karel Gott was well-known in Germany too, where he was called “The Golden Voice from Prague“.
After two recordings solely featuring Czech music (Dvořák’s Quintets, Op. 81 & 97, 2017; and Smetana’s String Quartets, 2015), the Pavel Haas Quartet have completed a new album containing works by Dmitry Shostakovich. The album which has met with great critical acclaim in the Czech Republic and beyond, has become the Presto Recording of the Week and has made it into The Times 100 Best Records of the Year.
Two Supraphon recordings were awarded within the Classic Prague Awards, which originated four years ago and are the only classical music accolades in the Czech Republic. Pavel Haas Quartet received the Recording of the Year prize for their album of Shostakovich’s String Quartets No. 2, 7, 8 and Belfiato Quintet received the Best Chamber Music Performance prize for their interpretation of Antonín Rejcha’s Wind Quintets on an album released in September.
The recording of Antonín Dvořák’s and Bohuslav Martinů’s piano concertos, made by the pianist Ivo Kahánek and the Bamberger Symphoniker under the baton of Jakub Hrůša, has garnered critical acclaim since its release last September. It has been voted BBC Radio 3 Disc of the Week, BBC Music Magazine Recording of the Month, Choix de Classique HD, Album der Woche – BR Klassik and Choc de Classica. And now the album has received the prestigious BBC Music Magazine Award in the „Concerto“ category.
On 22 May 2020, Supraphon released for the first time a unique recording of the performance of Bedřich Smetana’s opera Libuše on 29 May 1939 at the National Theatre in Nazi-occupied Prague. The album also features the Overture, recorded in 1940, and fragments from Act 3, including Libuše’s Prophecy. At the end, the audience sings the Czech national anthem. The album received the Gramophone Editor's Choice in October.
In the year of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, Supraphon reminds of a unique art of the legendary Smetana Quartet in a superb recording of the Beethoven's complete string quartets recorded at the turn of the 70's and 80's in Prague for Nippon Columbia. This splendid 7CD box-set is the very first release on CD beyond Japan and is available also in digital formats.
The greatest Czech classical music creators include Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, Leoš Janáček, Josef Suk, Bohuslav Martinů… and Vítězslav Novák, a pupil of Dvořák’s and later on a highly distinguished composer and teacher. This year’s 150th anniversary of Vítězslav Novák’s birth affords the opportunity to take a closer look at his oeuvre – and to rediscover that which has been overlooked. The new album, made by Jan Bartoš in collaboration with the conductor Jakub Hrůša and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, contains Novák‘s Piano Concerto in E minor, the piano cycle At Dusk, Op. 13 and Toman and the Wood Nymph – Symphonic poem for large orchestra, Op. 40.
The name Vilém Veverka is familiar to everyone who has fallen for the enchanting tone of the oboe. His path to virtuosity commenced with accolades at international competitions, and continued with gaining experience with the Berliner Philharmoniker, performances with the chamber formations Ensemble Berlin Prag and PhilHarmonia Octet. Following several „classical“ summits (critically acclaimed recordings of works by Telemann, Britten, Vivaldi, Zelenka and Bach), Vilém Veverka has made another of his dreams come true. The result is the crossover album Next Horizon he made with his Ultimate W Band. The album features pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ennio Morricone, Ástor Piazzolla, Led Zeppelin, as well as Marián Varga, Zdeněk Merta, Miroslav Žbirka and Martin Hybler. The guests Vilém Veverka invited to participate in the new album include the violin virtuoso Pavel Šporcl.
Ivan Moravec, deemed by many the finest 20th-century Czech pianist, would have celebrated his 90th birthday on 9 November. Supraphon is marking the anniversary with the most complete collection of his recordings to date, titled Portrait. The release, encompassing 11 CDs, features the most significant and unique recordings Moravec made between 1962 and 2000 for Supraphon and several US labels. The set also included a DVD with a documentary and previously unseen footage from the Czech Television archives.
Three decades since the release of the 12CD boxset of the complete Emmy Destinn recordings, Supraphon is now presenting a similarly precious landmark, made up of 3 CDs featuring Karel Burian (1870–1924), a celebrated Czech tenor, a Metropolitan Opera star, who also dazzled audiences in London, Paris, Zurich, Munich, Bayreuth, Dresden, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest and elsewhere. The album was released on 3CD and digital formats on 27 November 2020, in the year marking the 150th anniversary of Burian's birth.