Jaroslav Ježek – Life is just an accident
For the first time, the National Museum – Czech Museum of Music presents an independent exhibition project on the American continent.
For the first time in its history, the Czech National Museum – Czech Museum of Music contributes to the promotion of Czech music culture on the American continent with its project. The event is held within the framework of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council. For 2006/2007, when the 100th birthday of Jaroslav Ježek was included among world UNESCO anniversaries, the Czech Museum of Music put together a unique exhibition, “Life Is Just an Accident” (Prague, the Czech Museum of Music 9/22/2006 – 2/26/2007, Bratislava, the Slovak National Museum 3/9 – 7/1/2007, Hodonín: the Masaryk Museum 7/21 – 9/23/2007). Recently, the newly-made touring version of the exhibition is crossing the ocean in order to call attention to Jaroslav Ježek – an exceptional personality of European music culture – who exactly seventy years ago began his musical career in forced emigration in New York, where he later untimely died.
Jaroslav Ježek (1906 Praha – 1942 New York) is one of the most important personalities of modern Czech music between the two World Wars. Co-operation with the theatre and his close links to the “Liberated Theatre” split Ježek’s creative activities into two, seemingly independent, streams. Ježek, together with Bohuslav Martinů and Ervín Schulhoff, created a new form of piano instrumental setting in the field of art music. Even his chamber compositions and less numerous symphonic works are of lasting importance. He concentrated mainly on smaller forms, it being easier to experiment with their historical, stabilized structure. This generation (Martinů, Bořkovec, Krejčí, etc.) dealt with large symphonic forms only during and after World War II. Jaroslav Ježek’s forced emigration from the e n c r o a c h i n g German Nazism and his untimely death prevented him from returning to these forms. However, his works, which have not been commonly known up to now, deserve special attention.
His artistically original work in the field of applied genres, which has been a living part of Czech popular music up to now, ensured Jaroslav Ježek permanent popularity in the Czech Republic. Ježek was the founder of the Czech modern dance song, and, with Emil František Burian, of the political song. Mainly in the field of jazz, he could match any of the leading international figures of his day. Paradoxically enough, he earmed recognition abroad only after his death. When the famous Benny Goodman heard a recording of Ježek’s orchestra on American radio in the 1940s, he couldn’t believe that what he’d heard originated in Czechoslovakia before the war.
The festive opening of the touring exhibition Jaroslav Ježek – LIFE IS JUST AN ACCIDENT will be held on Tuesday, June 16, 2009, in the newly reconstructed Bohemian National Hall of the Czech Center in New York City (June 16–August 31, 2009). After seventy years, Ježek thus returns to the place of his last musical activities. Here, in the Worker’s House in Manhattan, he founded a male vocal choir, into which he put all his efforts. The ensemble first performed for the public in March 1941. Its surprising artistic level made it possible for the choir to give concerts in Chicago and Toronto as well. The success led Ježek to found a female vocal choir called “Zpěvokol.“ Its first public performance took place on 12/6/1941, only three weeks before Ježek’s sudden death, perceived unequivocally by all as a great artistic loss.
The unifying motif of its nontraditional artistic conception is the die, inspired by the Czech title of a touring production by the Liberated Theatre, “V+W+Ježek v kostce” [“V+W+Ježek in a nutshell”; kostka/kostky = die/dice]. Ježek’s orchestra also typically used music racks in the shape of dominos. Finally, the name of Ježek’s popular film song, “Life Is Just an Accident,” evokes gambling dice.
The dice or cubes made of graphic panels show the four main topics of the exhibition: Ježek’s childhood and youth, his work in classical music, then his activities associated with the Liberated Theatre, and finally his life in the USA. The non-traditional concept of multi-layered graphic panels evokes the surroundings and the atmosphere, from which the individual exhibits appear equipped with both Czech and English comments. This way of presentation made it possible to publish very rare photographs and documents, which would have not been possible to show otherwise due to the small size or bad technical state of the originals. The interactive layer of the exhibition is made of accompanying Czech- English texts placed on graphic discs (gramophone records, film rolls, period microphones), which the public can rotate, and of color covers for hidden cartoons made by Adolf Hoffmeister and František Bidlo. The color scheme of the individual cubes also plays an important role, contributing to the emotional atmosphere of the subject matter (cafeteria beige of Ježek’s youth, different shades of blue for his avant-garde sparks, multicolored era of the “Liberated Theatre,” lilac color of his homesickness, which grades into grey shades of the last moments of his life and of the after-life of his work, finally leading to white, which becomes the background of official awards. Visitors are thus offered not only a factographic overview of Ježek’s life and work, but also an emotional experience of his destiny and of the atmosphere of the time, augmented by listening to the accompanying archival sound recordings of both his art and popular works.
An integral part of the exhibition is the English version of the film “Three Constables” made by Czech Television, released on Christmas 2008. In this feature documentary directed by Aleš Kisil, the leading role of Ježek was played by a well-known Czech pianist Daniel Wiesner.
Jaroslav Ježek – Life Is Just an Accident.
The exhibition project of the National Museum – the Czech Museum of Music about Jaroslav Ježek (1906–1942), a famous Czech composer of music avantgarde in 20th century.Tiskový servis Národního muzea
National Museum – Czech Museum of Music:
PhDr. Věra Šustíková – author and curator of the exhibition
Cooperation: Czech Centers, Czech Center New York
Visual scheme: Ing. arch. Jiří Pošmourný
Graphics: Dáša Pošmourná
Financial support: Ministery of Culture of the Czech Republic
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