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19 Jul 2019

Tauský – Coventry (Meditation for String Orchestra)

by Michael Clive

Performance time: 8 minutes

Though not as well known in the U.S., the composer Vilém Tauský was a household name in Great Britain and in the Czech Republic when he died in 2004 at the age of 93. He was a fighter for the Czech resistance in World War II, a Major figure in British music, and a favorite personality on BBC Radio’s popular Friday Night Is Music Night.

Tauský was born in London in 1910 to a highly musical Czech family of Jewish ancestry; his mother sang at the Vienna State Opera under Gustav Mahler, and Tauský himself studied with the important Czech composer Leoš Janáček. When the Nazis came to power, Tauský fled to France and volunteered for the Free Czech Army; with the fall of France, he emigrated to Britain, where he became musical director of the Carl Rosa Opera Company and the then the Welsh National Opera after World War II. From 1956 to 1966 he was principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, and it was during this period that his appearances with Friday Night Is Music Night made him famous. But his longest tenure was as director of opera and Head of Conducting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama from 1966 to 1991, positions he held until age 80.

Tauský’s moving work Coventry is a meditation on the horrors of war. It was originally composed for string quartet, and was later arranged for string orchestra. Coventry took rise from Tauský’s service with the Free Czech Army in exile, which was called into the English town of Coventry after the famous cathedral there was destroyed by German bombs. Searching the ruins for survivors, Tauský was inspired by the courage that the townspeople of Coventry showed during the blitz.

Among many honors Tauský received from both British and Czech governments for his contributions to music, one stands out: In 2003, the year before his death, he was appointed Ambassador for the City of Coventry.