Pavel Kühn, founder of the choir (1938–2003)
Pavel Kühn was an exceptional musician, an excellent choirmaster and music director, versatile arranger and lover of contemporary music. He was brought up in a prominent musical family. Both his parents were singers – his father Jan Kühn was an operatic soloist, conductor and, above all, a choirmaster and founder of the modern Czech choral tradition; his mother Markéta Kühnová was a singer and devoted choirmaster, and his sister Jana Šulcová plays the organ and is a music teacher.
Pavel Kühn spent his childhood in his father’s choir. From a very young age he proved to be extremely talented as a musician and, even as a child, he sang numerous solos at the National Theatre and elsewhere. He became accustomed to choral life and choral discipline and, as he was growing up, he decided that he would continue the tradition of which he was a part. In 1958 Pavel Kühn selected a group of female singers from among the older members of his father’s children’s choir and, a year later, he brought in a men’s section to form the Kühn Mixed Choir, as it was then known. The high demands placed on the singers, numerous victories at foreign choral competitions and the requirement to step in at the last minute and quickly learn difficult works, helped the choir and its choirmaster to build up an excellent reputation. During the 1960s, in addition to his choral commitments, Kühn also became interested in popular music; as a singer and arranger he worked with the Lubomír Pánek Singers and the band The Rangers (Plavci), and he conducted the choir in performances with Václav Hybš, Václav Zahradník, Ladislav Štaidl, Karel Růžička, Jiří Stivín, Michael Kocáb and many others; nevertheless, classical music was always the focus of his work.
There were so many high points in his career, all of varying character: Pavel Kühn recorded the complete choral works of Bohuslav Martinů, he participated in rock, jazz and alternative music ventures, he recorded a series of folk songs, he was involved in both world-famous and now neglected film and television recordings, he worked on the post-synchronisation of some of the most celebrated Czech films, he was an assiduous music director, he devoted due attention to the repertoire’s finest works, and pieces that were less worthy were still well and swiftly prepared, ready for the recording studio or concert platform.
Pavel Kühn was particularly fond of music of high Romanticism and works by his contemporaries – he began presenting premieres at the end of the 1950s when he led the young ensemble in the first performance of Mikeš of the Mountains, written by family friend Bohuslav Martinů. After that, collaboration with young composers became more frequent; at reviews of contemporary music the choir promptly familiarised itself with dozens of new compositions, often recording them as well. It is incredible to think just how much Pavel Kühn achieved during his career – he led the choir in hundreds of recordings of choral works, and there are thousands hidden away in the radio archives. We can still hear his work in famous Czech films from the 1960s – take, for example, the major role he played in the recording of film scores for Markéta Lazarová, The Valley of the Bees, King Ubu – and also televised operas and series, and popular music recordings. Although he worked with numerous prominent choral ensembles (Prague Philharmonic Choir, Czechoslovak Radio Choir, Prague Chamber Choir etc.), his own choir was his main priority, given his friendship with people who had been in the ensemble with him for many years, and the positive work atmosphere that continued to inspire him. The chief merit of what was essentially a non-professional choir producing professional results was the inherent solidarity of its members, which enabled the ensemble to withstand unfavourable conditions and competition from other choirs. The legacy of Pavel Kühn’s work and his extraordinary commitment is still regarded as a major contribution to music of the latter half of the 20th century.
text written by Jan Pirner
Kühn Choir of Prague and Pavel Kühn
Pavel Kühn and his parents, Jan Kühn and Markéta Kühnová
Pavel Kühn with his father, Jan Kühn
Pavel Kühn, rehearsing before a concert