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Classical Connection

Caroline Purtell

On warm summer evenings in the late 19th century, celebrated classical composer Antonin Dvorak sat under the linden trees at his country estate in the Czech Republic smoking his pipe and sipping beer out of a glass beaker with his friend, Bohumil Fidler. The latter, an active choirmaster and composer, formed a friendship with Dvorak after sending him a letter investigating the prospect of performing one of his choral works.

“I am a simple Czech musician, not fond of such overstatements and humility,” Dvorak wrote in reply. “In spite of the fact that I have often mingled amongst greats of the world of music, I nevertheless will always remain who I always have been—a simple Czech musician.”

Fidler chronicled their friendship as well as the country’s musical culture in his book, Fidler’s My Life and Memories, published in the original Czech in 1935. Seventy years later, Fidler’s great granddaughter, Sonya Szabo-Reynolds, a piano teacher at the University, edited the first English translation of his memoirs, which the Dvorak Society for Czech and Slavic Music published this year. Armed with various dictionaries and her mother’s translating skills, Szabo-Reynolds revamped the memoir by compiling an index.

“When I was growing up, I was extremely intrigued by the portrait of Bohumil Fidler in the family photo album, but his world seemed mysterious and remote to me then,” Szabo-Reynolds says. “Later, when I made the decision to study music, my uncle Karl gave me the only original letter written by Dvorak that remained in our family, and for me it provided the tangible connection to that earlier time and place.”

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