Composer Karel Husa Donates Archive
Friends and colleagues recently joined Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and conductor Karel Husa and his wife, Simone, to celebrate the establishment of the Karel Husa Archive in the James J. Whalen Center for Music. From the festive dinner at the Tower Club, Husa and his guests could gaze out upon Cayuga Lake, which pro-vided inspiration for many of Husa's compositions, and the Ithaca College and Cornell University campuses, where Husa has taught many aspiring musicians since the mid-1950s.
The Husa archive will provide students and scholars with an intimate view of materials from the career of this musical genius. The collection includes original manuscripts of many of Husa's compositions, including some commissioned by Ithaca College; honors, including the Pulitzer Prize and Husa's Grawemeyer Award; and letters to and from other great composers, including Bernstein, Boulanger, Carter, Copland, Foss, Ginastera, Penderecki, and Poulenc.
Husa was born the son of a merchant in Prague in 1921. As a teenager he was enrolled at a technical institute to study engineering when the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia began. A subsequent student protest in 1939 caused the Germans to close all universities, including Husa's, and many of his fellow students were deported to work in munitions plants in Dresden. Husa narrowly escaped such a fate by joining a music composition class at Prague Conservatory (conservatories of art and music were allowed to remain open), where he composed Sonatina, his first work for piano, published in 1943. The war halted Husa's formal studies; the conservatory was closed for a year before Czechoslovakia was liberated in 1945.
In 1946 Husa began studying with Arthur Honegger. At that time he also met Nadia Boulanger and audited Darius Milhaud's composition class at the Paris Conservatory. Although Husa was praised in 1948 by a Czech music critic as "one of the greatest hopes for Czech music," the newly communist Czech government revoked his passport in 1949 when he refused to return to his homeland from Paris. In addition to developing as a composer, Husa refined his conducting skills during this time through studies with both Jean Fournet and André Cluytens. Husa conducted the first recording of Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin with the Centi Soli Orchestra.
In 1954 Cornell University musicologist Donald Grout extended an invitation to Husa in 1954 to teach music theory and conduct the orchestra. Husa spent the next 38 years composing and teaching composition at Cornell, where he would ultimately be named Kappa Alpha Professor of Music. He also served as professor of composition at Ithaca College from 1967 until 1986, a time when he created some of his best-known works: Music for Prague 1968, the Pulitzer Prize-winning String Quartet no. 3, and the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, which earned him the Grawemeyer Award in 1993. Many of these works have been recorded by major groups around the world on various record labels. Husa also continued to conduct, leading orchestras in Paris, London, Prague, Stockholm, Oslo, Zurich, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C.
Music That Speaks to Its Time
Associate professor of music history Mark Radice is the archivist for the Husa collection, which is currently undergoing cataloguing. Many of the documents, awards, and scores, however, are already on display in floor-to-ceiling cases in the Karel Husa Gallery in the Whalen Center. When the cataloguing is complete, copies of many of the documents will be available to students and visiting scholars.
Music for Prague 1968, with over 7,000 performances, has earned a place in the standard repertoire of wind bands and orchestras. Composed after the Soviet invasion of the Czech capital, it was commissioned by Ithaca College and received its first performance by the Ithaca College Concert Band at the Music Educators National Conference in January 1969. It received its Prague premiere in 1990 under Husa's baton. Al Fresco, the first commissioned work in the College's Walter Beeler Series, premiered at an MENC event in Philadelphia in 1975. The College also commissioned Every Day, which was based on text from Henry David Thoreau's journal and premiered at the Ithaca College Choral Festival in 1981. Cayuga Lake (Memories) was commissioned as part of the College's 1992 centennial celebration. Husa conducted the premiere of that work, performed by Ithaca College faculty and the chamber orchestra, at Lincoln Center.
Husa has created unique music that reflects the events in his life and that continues to have meaning in today's world. Moreover, the impact of his work on the music of the 20th century will have far-reaching effects for music students and scholars of the 21st. Having the Husa archive at Ithaca College is an honor indeed.
Photo by Alexander Dippold '98