Smetana Quartet - Origins and Activities

Origins and Activities

The Smetana Quartet arose from the Quartet of the Czech Conservatory, which was founded in 1943 (during the Nazi occupation) in Prague by Antonin Kohout, the cellist. With J. Rybensky and L. Kostecky as first and second violins, and Václav Neumann as violist, the group gave its first perfirmance as the Smetana Quartet in November 1945, in Prague. Neumann left to pursue conducting in 1947, at which point Rybensky went to the viola desk and Jiří Novák (who shared first violin desk with Josef Vlach, founder of the Vlach Quartet, under Vaclav Talich in the Czech Chamber Orchestra) came in as first violin.

By 1949 the group had official connections with the Czech Philharmonic. The first foreign tour was in 1949, to Poland, and the first recording was of a quartet by Bedřich Smetana in 1950. Rybensky was obliged to retire through ill health in 1952, and was replaced by Milan Škampa. The performers were appinted Professors at the Academy of Musical Arts in 1967. Of their many recordings, those made at that time for German Electrola are considered particularly fine.

For many years this group, which has been called the finest Czech quartet of its time, played the Czech repertoire from memory, giving these works a special intensity and intimacy.

Antonín Kohout trained the Kocian Quartet (founded 1972) and the Martinů Quartet (1976), though the latter's members had been pupils of Professor Viktor Moučka, cellist of the Vlach Quartet.

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