Vojtech Kuchynka

Vojtěch [Vojta] Kuchynka was born in the Czech town of Nové Strašecí on 7 May 1871. He studied double bass at the Prague Conservatoire with Vendelin Sládek (1851-1901) from 1885-91, and composition with Antonín Dvořák from 1891-93. In 1895 he was appointed 1st Double Bass and Soloist in the Orchestra of the Czechoslovak Folk Art Exhibition Orchestra, also conducted a number of choirs in the Czech capital and for a short time was the piano teacher of the family of Count Fürstenberg. Between 1899 and 1933 Kuchynka played in the National Theatre Orchestra in Prague and from time to time worked with the famous Czech Quartet.

He gave solo recitals until the day of his retirement when he celebrated his 600th recital, and was known as ‘the Kubelík of the Double Bass’, after the leading Czech violinist of the day Jan Kubelík (1880-1940). He was praised for his perfect technique, impressive harmonic work, interpretation and tasteful transcriptions of classical works. Most of his recitals were in Bohemia or Moravia and one concert in Prague, reviewed in The Strad by Miss Windust, stated “Alongside the brilliant performances of František Ondříček and Karel Hoffmann it was the admirable virtuosity of Vojta Kuchynka that made the deepest impression on me.” He made the first Czech double bass recording for Parlophon, and Prague Radio broadcast recitals of his music to celebrate his 65th and 70th birthdays.

Vojta’s younger brother František (1879-1971) was also a double bassist, initially taught by his brother, before also studying at the Prague Conservatoire with Vendelin Sladek. He played alongside Vojta at the 1st desk of the National Theatre Orchestra in Prague and Karel Kovařovic, the conductor, nicknamed them ‘Chrudos and Stahlav’, famous quarrellers in an old Bohemian legend and both characters were included in Smetana’s opera Libuše, which was often performed at the National Theatre. In 1906 František emigrated to America changing his name to Frank, and subsequently became 1st Bass of the New York Symphony Orchestra, Principal Bass of the Minneapolis Symphony, a member of the San Francisco Symphony and ultimately a member of the MGM studio orchestra in Hollywood. On his 90th birthday Frank Kuchynka received a letter of congratulation as a ‘bass viol virtuoso’ from President Richard Nixon.

Both brothers were successful musicians in their own right, Vojta in his native Czech Republic and Frank in America. Vojta Kuchynka died on 1 August 1942 in Tábor, Czech Republic and in 1971, on the centenary of his birth and at the instigation of the Czech virtuoso František Pošta, a memorial plaque was unveiled at his birthplace in Nové Strašecí. As a composer Kuchynka wrote more than 140 works, from chamber and orchestral music to songs, choruses and much chamber music. His works for double bass display the technical possibilities of the solo double bass, alongside the emotional and lyrical potential, and the influence of Dvořák and Czech folk music is evident in most of his music.