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Rychlík, Janfree

  • Ian Mikyska

(b Prague, 27 April 1916; d Prague, 20 Jan 1964). Czech composer, musician, and writer on music. Born into a middle-class industrial family – his father was a municipal building consultant – he attended a realschule, with an emphasis on the sciences, and then, from 1933, the Prague School of Commerce. From the mid-thirties, he was active in popular music, particularly jazz and swing. He sang and played the piano and drums, as well as orchestrating, arranging, and composing, with groups such as Orchestr Gramoklubu and Blue Music. After the closure of the universities by the Nazi regime in 1939, he spent a year as a full-time drummer with the newly established Karel Vlach Orchestra, and then began studying composition with Jaroslav Řídký at the Prague Conservatory (1940–45), with whom he also completed the conservatory’s Master School (1945–6).

His compositions were at first dance numbers and popular tunes; chamber pieces for the clarinet and piano, with opus numbers, date from 1943, and were soon followed by orchestral compositions. After the war, he began to focus on concert music, and after the Communist victory in the 1948 election, particularly on arrangements of folk songs and songs with historical and nationalist texts, forms in which one could experiment to a certain degree, their political position being unassailable. However, he remained connected to popular music through his work in film. ‘Arizóna and ‘So Far’, two numbers from the film-musical Limonádový Joe, are widely loved to this day, as are his scores for Music from Mars and The Creation of the World. He also composed a considerable amount of incidental music for radio and theatre, much of which is unfortunately lost.

After his studies with Řídký, he treated each composition as a working out of a specific formal or musical problem. His spontaneous musical gifts were balanced by an unusually broad knowledge of music history and theory, folk music, mathematics, and the natural sciences, and the problems being worked out included relations to the music of other cultures (African cycle for eight winds and piano), between instrumental timbres (Relazioni for flute, english horn, and bassoon) or between chorus and individual in Ancient Greek theatre (7 Choruses from Sophocles’ Oedipus).

He took an analytic and critical attitude to other music, treating all influences in an original way. This included both older traditions, and, near the end of his life, techniques gleaned from composers of the Darmstadt school. His interest in mathematics and formal problems provided a valuable starting point for his engagement with these techniques, but the breadth of his thinking and his intuitive musicality meant that they remained techniques, to be used along with many others. His use of quasi-serialist procedures, for example, had a lightness and humour one would hardly find in the music of his more orthodox Western counterparts.

His style, at first close to the mainstream neo-classicism of the time, soon came to involve a Webernian curtness of form, while retaining a strong rhythmic (and often polyrhythmic) drive and an ever-present melodic element. His engagement with the newest compositional techniques was only beginning to deepen at the time of his death; his last finished work, Relazioni, makes use not only of serialism, but also of aleatoricism, and features sections focusing almost exclusively on timbre.

He was one of the earliest Czech scholars to write about jazz. Prejudices and Problems of Jazz is a comprehensive history tracing many elements of contemporary jazz back to the work song, spiritual, and call and response techniques of the 19th century. His work on European brass instruments between the 15th and 19th centuries was foundational for historical musicology and performance studies in the region, and his Modern Instrumentation – finished posthumously in 1968 by Jarmil Burghauser and others – remained a staple textbook for many decades. He wrote prolifically for journals, and was instrumental in establishing Musica viva Pragensis (one of the first ensembles playing only contemporary music) and the electronic music studio at the Czech Radio.

Rychlík spoke several languages, and during the difficult times of the 1950s, he was an inspiration to many, as well as providing practical help and support. His secret diary from 1955 provides a rare glimpse into his broad and intense intellectual life, with the depressing social and political context only coming through occasionally, and even then as an incitement to deeper thought and engagement with the world. His son, Jan Rychlík, is a well-known academic historian.


(selective list)

Orchestral compositions

Symfonická předehra [Sym. Ov.], (1944)

Koncertní předehra pro velký orchestr [Concert Ov. for Large Orch], (1947)

Partita giocosa pro dechový orchestr [Partita Giocosa for Wind Orch], (1947)

Obrázky a nálady: dětská suita pro 10 nástrojů [Images and Moods: Childrens’ Suite for 10 Instruments], (1953)

Solo compositions

Čtyři partity pro sólovou flétnu [4 Partitas for Solo Fl], (1954)

Čtyři studie pro sólovou flétnu [4 Studies for Solo Fl], (1954)

Burleskní suita pro sólový klarinet [Burlesque Suite for Solo Cl], (1956)

Hommaggi gravicembalistici. Suita pro cembalo [Hommaggi gravicembalistici: Suite for Hpd], (1960)

Duo compositions

Domácí hudba pro flétnu a klarinet [Domestic Music for Fl and Cl], (1950)

Etudy pro anglický roh a klavír [Etudes for Eng Hn and Pf], (1953)

Školní sonatina pro lesní roh a klavír [Academic Sonatina for Eng Hn and Pf], (1953)

Arabesky pro housle a klavír [Arabesques for Vn and Pf], (1955)

Ensemble compositions

Suita pro dechové kvinteto [Suite for Wind Qnt], (1946)

Trio pro klarinet, trubku a fagot [Trio for Clt, Tpt, and Bn], (1948)

Divertimento pro 3 kontrabasy [Divertimento for Three Db], (1952)

Trio pro housle, violu a violoncello [Trio for Vn, Va, and Vc], (1953)

Komorní suita pro smyčcové kvarteto [Chbr Suite for Str Qt], (1954)

Serenáda (Vzpomínky) pro dechové okteto [Serenade (Memories) for Wind Octet], (1957)

Dechový kvintet [Wind Qnt], (1960)

Africký cyklus pro 8 dechových nástrojů a klavír [African Cycle for 8 Winds and Pf], (1961)

Relazioni. Komorní cyklus pro altovou flétnu, anglický roh a fagot [Relations: Chamber Cycle for A Fl, Eng Hn, and Bn], (1963–4)

Vocal compositions

Vstávejte pastoušci. Kantáta-koleda pro sóla, sbor a orchestr na slova lidové poezie [Wake Up, Shepherds: Cantata-carol for Solos, Chorus, and Orch with Texts from Folk Poetry], (1945–6)

Jihočeské písně a písničky, pro mužský a ženský hlas s dopr. houslí, klarinetu a basklarinetu [Songs from Southern Bohemia, for Mixed Chorus accompanied by Vn, Cl, and B Cl], (1948)

O nemocném Jirkovi. Dětský sbor a cappella na slova Josefa Hiršala [Ill George: A Cappella Children’s Chorus on Words by Josef Hiršal], (1949)

Pasácká hlásání. Dětský sbor a cappella [Herdsmen’s Cries: A Cappella Children’s Chorus], (1949)

Dva smíšené sbory a cappella na slova A. S. Puškina: 1. Mračno, 2. Slavík [Two Mixed Choruses A Cappella on Words by A.S. Pushkin: 1. Cloud, 2. Nightingale], (1952)

Svoboda. Věnec písní vlasteneckých pro tenor, housle, hoboj, violu a violoncello. Úpravy písní z 19. století [Freedom: A Bouquet of Patriotic Songs for T, Vn, Ob, Va, and Vc: Arrangements of 19th-Century Songs], (1955)

7 sborů ze Sofoklova Oidipa pro smíšený sbor a cappella [7 Choruses from Sophocles’ Oedipus for Mixed Choir A Cappella], (1962)

Posměšky. Pro dětský sbor a malý nástrojový soubor, na lidové texty [Jeers: For Children’s Choir and Small Instrumental Ensemble, on Texts from Folk Poetry], (1962)

Šibeniční madrigaly na texty Ch. Morgensterna v překl. J. Hiršala pro komorní smíšený sbor a cappella [Madrigals from the Gallows, on Texts by C. Morgenstern in J. Hiršal‘s Translation, for Mixed Chamber Choir A Cappella], (1962)

Film music

Hudba z Marsu [Music from Mars] (dir. E. Klos and J. Kadár), 1953

Kavárna na hlavní třídě [Café on the High Street] (dir. M. Hubáček), 1953

Cirkus Hurvínek [Circus Hurvínek] (dir. J. Trnka), 1954

Stvoření světa [The Creation of the World] (based on the illustrations of Jean Effel, dir. E. Hofman), 1957

Limonádový Joe aneb Koňská opera [Lemonade Joe, or, the Horse Opera] (dir. O. Lipský), 1963


  • ‘Henry Purcell’, Tempo [Prague], vol.18 (1946), 125–9
  • ‘Jazz’, Tempo [Prague], vol.19 (1946–7), 71–83, 149–52
  • ‘Bicí nástroje v soudobém orchestru’ [Percussion in the contemporary orchestra], Tempo [Prague], vol.20 (1947–8), 185–8
  • ‘Claude Debussy, Rusko a Anglie’, Tempo [Prague], vol.20 (1947–8), 171–5
  • ‘Úvahy o orchestraci’ [Paper on orchestration] (1948–9), 71, 94, 137
  • Deník 1955 [Diary 1955] (Prague, 2006)
  • Pověry a problémy jazzu [Prejudices and problems of jazz] (Prague, 1959)
  • Moderní instrumentace [Modern instrumentation] (Prague, 1963)
  • ‘Prvky nových skladebných technik v hudbě minulosti, v hudbě exotické a lidové’ [Elements of new techniques of composition in past, exotic, and folk music], Nové cesty hudby, no.1 (1964), 54