FIŠER, LUBOŠ (1931-1999)

Luboš Fišer (pron. Loo-bawsh Fisher) (born September 30, 1935, Prague; died June 22, 1999, Prague, Czech Republic). Luboš was one of the most talented Czech composers of the present middle generation; his death will be deeply felt in his homeland as well as abroad where his music was becoming increasingly performed. He was best known to the wider public for his many film scores, but it is his finely honed other compositions often written under difficult political conditions in the Communist years, and later dominated by per- sonal stresses, that mark him out as a composer of significance.

He was born and lived all his life in Prague, where he was a student at the Prague Conservatoire from 1952 to 1956 and subsequently at the Academy of Music, from which he graduated in 1960. His composition teachers were Emil Hlobil and Pavel Borkovec but it was from Hlobil that he learnt cre- ative discipline and self-criticism and about whom he would speak most appreciatively in later years. He remembered presenting a fugal exercise to his teacher on one occasion, only to be asked: "Do you have a stove?" "Then use it!"

Already from his student years his early compositions were beginning to attract public notice, all works then written in traditional forms such as his Piano Sonata No. 1 of 1955, as well as two symphonies from the later 1950s. His graduation work was a one-act opera, Lancelot, which gave the first indication of his many later successes in music for the theatre, film and television.

From 1963, he wrotee music for over 300 dramatic productions, working with such famous stage and film directors as Peter Weigl, Jaromil Jireš, Karel Kachyna, Juraj Herz and Oldřich Lipský. With Weigl, he won the 1979 Premio Italia for Bludisté moci ("Labyrinth of Power") and in 1980 he received the Prix Italia for Zlatá hoři ("Golden Eels") with Kachyna. Many other such national and international prizes followed and in the last years of his life, he received the Czech Lion award for Golet v dolí ("Golet in the Valley") with Zeno Dostl and Krle Ubu ("King Ubu") with František Brabec.

For all his successful and prolific writing for film and television, it was in the field of concert music that his principal compositional activity lay and into these works he poured the best of his remarkably fertile imagination and skill. Between 1955 and his death in 1999, he wrote a fine series of eight Piano Sonatas, of which No. 8 remains unperformed and in manu- script. Like his Piano Sonata No. 7, it is dedicated to his friend the Czech pianist, František Maxín.

Perhaps the most significant of his works from the 1960s was his Patnáct lístu podle Durerový Apokalypsy ("Fifteen Pages After Durer's Apocalypse") written in 1965 and winning the 1967 Unesco award, which brought him a wider international audience, including British performances with the London Symphony Orchestra and later with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Běláhlavek. It was the 1960s which saw the emergence of Luboš Fišer's original style, in such works as the choral Caprichos of 1966, his Requiem of 1968 and the Double for Orchestra of 1969.

Fišer's deeply personal and privately protected intellect caused him to turn to the past for some of his inspirational sources, seen in works like the Nárek nad zkzou města Ur ("Lament over the Destruction of the City of Ur") of 1970 or the use of texts from the Middle Ages in Písně pro slepého Krle Jana Lučemburského ("Songs for the Blind King of Luxemburg"), Renaissance texts for Růze ("The Rose") of 1977, and Sumerian texts for the melodrama, Istanu. Salzburg has turned occasionally to Czech com- posers for new works, most recently twice commissioning works from Fišer's older contemporary Petr Eben. In 1978, Fišer wrote his Serenade for Salzburg for chamber orchestra. His Piano Concerto dates from 1980, the same year as his Meridian for Orchestra and a further significant orchestral work, Centaures, followed three years later. 

Chamber music remained central to Fišer's output, with the Sonata for solo violin of 1981 being commissioned by Gideon Kremer and receiv- ing many performances since that time. An equally fine Sonata for solo violoncello followed in 1986. His String Quartet of 1955, Testis for string quartet, written in 1980, and the Piano Trio of 1978 are all works which have had an international impact and have been heard in British concert halls, as well as broadcast by the BBC, in recent years. The Piano Sonata No. 3 of 1960 and Violoncello Sonata of 1970 were per- formed at the Warwick and Leamington Festival. His last orchestral work, Sonata for Orchestra, received its premiere with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimír Válek in Prague in 1999. [Impromptu for Solo Clarinet was written in 1986.]

Luboš Fišer's highly individual style was created out of his personal criti- cal distillation of all the 20th-century compositional techniques, most of which he discarded. Of the mainstream European influences, he would acknowledge Stravinsky and Prokofiev, as well as his fellow countryman Martinů. Although very different in both personality and compositional styles, he shared a place with Petr Eben as being the Czech Republic's most successfully distinctive, individual and original contemporary com- poser. He was a strong personality with firmly held opinions, yet he did not talk much. He could make his views clear in a very few words and by his very presence, his strength being best expressed through his music. When asked by performers for some guidance or comment about a work, he would reply: "Play what is there - it is all in the notes."

At times in his life he had been a lonely person and was always incredi- bly super-sensitive, traits that he did his best to hide. This would mani- fest itself in a number of ways, sometimes with eccentric if not outra- geous public behaviour but more often through solace in his fondness for wine. As a politically unacceptable composer, he suffered throughout the Communist years but was equally disillusioned by the situation after 1989, turning increasingly to reliance upon the alcohol which was to has- ten his premature death.

Like many of his compatriots after the Velvet Revolution, he felt that he should contribute to the restoration of democracy in some way and so he unwisely accepted the directorship of the music publishing house Panton, for which he was quite unsuited and which was to put enormous pressure upon him. Added to that, he was named in an unsubstantiated list of so-called collaborators with the former secret police, which included names of many upright Czech public figures including Václav Havel and the composers Petr Eben and Jarmil Burghauser.

Unlike many falsely listed, he found this difficult to ignore.
A further factor which depressed him was the reaction of Czech musi- cians, particularly in the orchestras, after 1989 towards performing con- temporary music. Understandably, for 40 years they had to play a lot of music by politically acceptable Czech composers, much of which was of poor quality. Now, in the new democratic life, they turned against all contemporary music and even fine composers, like Fišer, found it hard to get performances in the immediate post-1989 period.

Luboš Fišer was never happier than when composing in his summer house at Ceská Lípa in North Bohemia, with his dog lying by his desk. Throughout his difficult last years, he received enormous support from his wife and from his composer colleagues. In 1996, he joined with Sylvie Bodorová, Zdeněk Lukáš and Otmar Mácha to form the group Quatro, whose aim it was to write music of quality which would be accessible to an informed concert-going public and a counter to much of the indifferent and uninteresting music they felt was coming from many of the so-called Czech avant-garde.

From this last period came his Guitar Concerto and the Violin Concerto which was given its premiere at Karlový Vary in 1998. It was from these three friends that he drew greatest support and comfort in the closing days of what became a tragically wasted life of one so talented and so needed in his country's culture.

—Graham Melville-Mason