Rudolf Karel

09/11/1880 Plzeň, 06/03/1945 Terezín  

Karel Rudolf was a distinguished Czech composer and conductor. At his father’s request, he studied law at Charles University, yet, musically gifted after his mother, an amateur pianist, he ultimately enrolled at the Prague Conservatory. He studied composition with Antonín Dvořák. After graduating, he wrote music and gave private lessons. His endeavours earned him recognition and he soon established collaboration with the Simrock publishing company. When World War I broke out, Karel was on holiday in Russia, where he was arrested on suspicion of being an Austrian spy. He managed to flee and found refuge among the Czech compatriots. In 1918, he joined the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia and became the conductor of its orchestra. The works he composed during the time in Russia include the symphonic poem Demon (1920), dedicated to the legendary conductor Václav Talich. In 1920, Karel returned home, where over the next 17 years he would teach at the Prague Conservatory. During the Nazi occupation, he was active in the resistance movement, was detained and interned at Pankrác for two years. While in prison, a guard gave Karel a pencil and paper, so he could write music. The friendly warden would then take out the scores, some of them on toilet paper, from the jail. A detailed sketch of his opera Three Hairs of the Wise Old Man was thus preserved. After the war, the orchestration was completed by Karel’s pupil Zbyněk Vostřák at the National Theatre in Prague.  In February 1945, Rudolf Karel was incarcerated at the Theresienstadt camp-ghetto, where he soon died of dysentery. His operas Ilsea’s Heart (1909) and Godmother Death (1928–1932) were performed at the National Theatre in Prague.