Kapralova, Vitezslava (1915–1940)

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Kapralova, Vitezslava (1915–1940)

Czech composer. Born in Brünn, Moravia (later Brno, Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic), on January 24, 1915; died in Montpellier, France, on June 16, 1940; received first musical instruction from her father Vaclav Kapral (1889–1947), a gifted composer and teacher; studied composition and conducting at the Brno Conservatory with Zdenek Chalabala from 1930 to 1935; studied at the Prague Conservatory with Vitezslav Novakl (composition) and Vaclav Talich (conducting).

Received a scholarship for study in France (1937), enabling her to study conducting with Charles Münch and composition with Bohuslav Martinu; appeared as a guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Festival of the International Society of Contemporary Music in London (1938); returned to France after the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia (1939); had to flee Paris from the advancing German armies; the stress of evacuation and tuberculosis resulted in her death.

One of the great tragedies of Central European music in the 20th century was the immense destruction of human capabilities and the incalculable loss of future achievements brought about by Fascism and war in the 1930s and 1940s. Many musicians fled, never to return to their homelands, while others died at the front or were killed in Nazi death camps in the Holocaust. A poignant "might-have-been" was the profoundly talented Czech composer Vitezslava Kapralova, whose death in France on the very eve of the Nazi triumphal march into a prostrate Paris in June 1940 is one of the most emblematic of these many losses. Daughter of a highly gifted composer father, Kapralova astonished her teachers with her extraordinary talents as both a performer (her greatest abilities lay in the art of conducting) and her amazing composing skills. By the time she was 20, her Piano Concerto had been performed in her hometown of Brno. In November 1937, her Military Sinfonietta was performed in Prague. By the time Kapralova went to France as a refugee in 1939, her health had become precarious and even life-threatening, but she continued to compose to the end of her brief life. A Concertino for Violin, Clarinet and Orchestra remained unfinished at her death in June 1940, when she succumbed to the physical and emotional stresses accompanying the military defeat of France by Nazi Germany. The tragic death of Vitezslava Kapralova may well have deprived Czech and European music of the female counterpart of Antonin Dvorak, Leos Janacek or Bohuslav Martinu.


Cohen, Aaron I. International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. 2 vols. NY: Books & Music (USA), 1987.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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