“My new album features Karel Husa and Bohuslav Martinů chamber pieces for a variety of instrumental formations. The two composers had similar fates, both of them spending most of their lives abroad, and there are also parallels in their relations to folk, particularly traditional Moravian, music. Both of them studied in Paris and subsequently lived in the USA. And both of them married French women,” said the clarinettist Anna Paulová, who has focused on Karel Husa’s music since her studies at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. We talked to Anna Paulová prior to the release on Supraphon of her album containing Karel Husa and Bohuslav Martinů works.
The first Husa composition she explored was the Three Studies for Solo Clarinet, a performance of which would earn her the title of overall winner at the prestigious Bohuslav Martinů Foundation Competition (2016). Fascinated by the piece, Paulová decided to contact and thank Husa, who, however, died before she could talk to him. Later on, she went on to learn other works of his, including the Sonata à tre for violin, clarinet and piano and Évocations de Slovaque for clarinet, viola and cello. She was deeply impressed by Husa’s use of new clarinet expressive techniques, such as breath, reedy and natural tone production. Anna Paulová also finds it remarkable that, although different and singular, all of Husa’s pieces attest to his great sense for structure, as well as inspiration by bird song and Moravian folk music.
How did the recording proceed?
The most difficult thing was getting together the performers, the recording director and sound engineer, to find dates suitable for everyone. All the artists are extremely busy, giving concerts as soloists or with orchestras. What is more, the cellist Vilém Vlček is currently studying abroad. I am immensely grateful to all these top-notch musicians, and the excellent recording director and sound engineer for joining me. We were a brilliant team. Working with them on the album was truly inspiring.
What is your relation to Bohuslav Martinů’s music?
I am really fond of and love playing Martinů’s music. One of my favourite works of his is the Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano, which is actually his only composition for solo clarinet with piano accompaniment. I have performed it for several years. The Sonatina reveals Martinů’s great sense and penchant for folk music. He wrote it in 1956 in the USA, when he already knew he would never return to his native Bohemia. I think it is primarily palpable in the second movement. Martinů’s Sonatina is today a staple of the global clarinet repertoire, and it is also the most frequently performed 20th-century Czech composition. Even though denoted as “sonatina”, it is no miniature, but a comprehensive piece, affording clarinettists the opportunity to showcase both their technical dexterity and art of interpretation. Martinů employs the clarinet in other of his chamber pieces, such as the Four Madrigals for oboe, clarinet and bassoon, the Sextet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Two Bassoons and Piano, the Quartet for Clarinet, Horn, Cello and Snare Drum, La revue de cuisine, and in several Serenades. All of them are wonderful works that I love playing.
You have created the album with such renowned musicians as Ivo Kahánek, Jan Fišer, Kristina Fialová, Oto Reiprich, Jan Hudeček and Vilém Vlček. What was it like working with them?
I consider myself lucky and honoured to have had the chance to work with such superb artists. All of them have ample experience with making recordings, and all of them plunged into exploring the music with great verve, for which I extend my thanks. Karel Husa’s pieces are extremely challenging technically and difficult to perform, and I, naturally, wanted them to sound as good as possible. I would also like to thank the sound engineer and recording director Martin Stupka for his devotion and patience, as well as the valuable suggestions. A true enthusiast, he is an extraordinary professional. The recording sessions proceeded in a pleasant creative atmosphere.
How close to you is 20th- and 21st-century music, especially that by Czech composers?
I have occupied myself with 20th- and 21st-century Czech music over the long term. My teacher Jiří Hlaváč introduced me to works by Bohuslav Martinů, Karel Husa, Viktor Kalabis, Josef Páleníček, Miloslav Ištvan, Zdeněk Šesták, Jiří Teml, Zdeněk Zahradník and many others. I have been granted several scholarships from the Czech Music Fund, thus having been afforded the opportunity to learn and perform their music. And I have collaborated with young contemporary composers (Miloš Orson Štědroň, Lukáš Sommer, Martin Kux, Jiří Trtík, Ian Mikyska, Matouš Hejl, Kateřina Horká, Daria Kukal Moiseeva, and others).
I believe that Czechs can best understand Czech music. Within this context, I would like to quote Karel Husa, who said: “Czech music is a global phenomenon.” I think that we Czech musicians should promote Czech music worldwide, yet also play international music in our country. When performing contemporary pieces, we can discuss them with their creators. I love working like that, hearing their opinions!
What concerts have you lined up?
In June, I will appear as a soloist in Erbach, Germany, performing Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat major. Subsequently, I will give a series of chamber concerts with the accordionist Jiří Lukeš and the guitarist Lukáš Sommer. In the autumn, I will perform with the Prague Chamber Orchestra at the Monastery Music Festivities in Šumperk, presenting a programme featuring W. A. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, KV622, in the original version scored for basset clarinet, and Ondřej Kukal’s Clarinettino, Op. 11. In October, I will visit Italy, to play the solo of F. V. Kramář’s Clarinet Concerto in E flat major opposite the Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanremo. On 29 February 2024, the violist Kristina Fialová, the pianist Martin Kasík and I will appear within the Prague Symphony Orchestra’s chamber music cycle, performing music by Bohuslav Martinů, Karel Husa and other composers. Moreover, in June I will launch my new album at a concert featuring selected Martinů and Husa pieces. I would also like to give an evening in tribute to Karel Husa, within which the artists who have made the CD would perform the works it contains. After all, Husa wished for his music to live on.