Retired Faculty, Music
Rudolf Komorous was born December 8, 1931 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Komorous studied bassoon and later composition at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. In 1957, he won First Prize in the prestigious Concours International d’Exécution Musicale in Geneva. As a result, he was invited to the Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where he taught bassoon and chamber music from 1959-61. Upon his return home, he became principal bassoon in the Prague Opera Orchestra, and co-founded Musica Viva Pragensis. Quickly gaining recognition as one of the premier ensembles in the world for the performance of modern music, Musica Viva Pragensis toured and made recordings in radio studios all over Europe up to 1968.
Komorous' involvement with the Czech avant-garde in the 1950s and '60s led to a close association with painters and sculptors. This circle, known as the "Smidra Group", was influenced by Dada and Surrealism. Their motto was the "aesthetics of the wonderful" through which common materials could be transformed into something sublime, mysterious or even magical. Komorous’s compositions of the mid-1960’s were radically innovative within a minimalist aesthetic. Here his experience with Chinese aesthetics played a part, as well as the influence of American composers such as Morton Feldman. His 1965 composition The Tomb of Malevich, of 1965, was the first electronic piece publicly presented in Czechoslovakia, and also the first electronic piece released by Supraphon on gramophone record. A number of his works from this period were published by Universal Edition, Vienna; they were performed at festivals such as the Venice Biennale, Warsaw Autumn, Donaueschingen, and Prague Spring. Other important works from this period that begin to show his later interests in melody and harmony include Gloomy Grace, York, and his unaccompanied opera Lady Whiterose. This opera has later been performed Buffalo, New York, Montreal, and Victoria.
In 1969 Komorous emigrated with his family to Canada, following the Soviet invasion of his country. After teaching for two years at Macalester College in St.Paul, Minnesota, in 1971 he joined the faculty of the School of Music at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. There he founded the Electronic Music Studio and later became the Director of the School. From 1989 until 1994 he served as Director of the School for the Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, retiring to Victoria in 1996.
Upon his arrival in Canada, Rudolf Komorous developed an instant affinity for the west coast, and there was a dramatic flowering of his composition. In the early seventies, Komorous began a series of daring works for unusual combinations of instruments, juxtaposing musics of different styles and sometimes quoting or referencing music ranging from the baroque to boogie-woogie, waltz or jazz. His Preludes for 13 early instruments (1974) and Rossi (1975) are two extraordinary examples. Rossi received a number of performances including by New Music Concerts in Toronto and was later recorded by the Vancouver New Music Ensemble on Centrediscs records.
Komorous’s extensive catalogue of compositions written since the mid-seventies include works for orchestra (5 Sinfonies, including No.2, “The Canadian”), a large variety of works for solo instruments and chamber ensembles, and several choral works and songs. His opera No No Miya was commissioned by Vancouver New Music and premiered in 1989 with Judith Forst in the solo role. The opera was later mounted by Tapestry Music Theatre in Toronto and at the New Opera Days Ostrava festival. Many of his vocal and choral works utilize texts of early Chinese poets. These include his major work Vermillion Dust for chorus and orchestra (1980) based on poetry of Li Shang-yin and his 23 Poems about Horses (1978/85) for narrator and ensemble utilizing poetry of Li-Ho. The latter work was recorded by Vancouver New Music with Martin Bartlett, narrator. Other significant pieces of the last decade include his Lurid Bride (2000) recorded by Turning Point Ensemble on a complete disc of his work entitled Strange Sphere and Wu (2002/3), an hour long work for solo piano performed and recorded by Eve Egoyan. Recent works include the opera The Mute Canary (2018), Stone House, written for soprano Cathy Lewis and his 85th birthday concert, and Minx (2010) written for and premiered by the Turning Point Ensemble.
The compositions of Rudolf Komorous since the mid-seventies have focused on his interests in original approaches to melody and harmony, also exhibiting eclectic associations including Japanese Noh theatre, jazz (Thelonious Monk and Hoagy Carmichael), and mannerism in art and poetry of the high Italian renaissance. For those who have interpreted his work as moving back to tradition, Komorous counters that he has remained avant-garde or looking forward: “Art goes on, and today the New Music is a historical term. Music has had to keep on moving in some direction and in my view the path forward is that we need to discover how to compose and invent melodies that are not pre-New Music but post-New Music.”
The body of work of Rudolf Komorous is substantial and distinctive, and interest in his work is growing on a national and international level. In 2000, he was a featured composer in the Vancouver International New Music Festival, and important articles on Rudolf Komorous have been recently written including on the edge – after Rudolf Komorous by Martin Arnold (MusicWorks magazine 2004), and The Composer Rudolf Komorous by Renata Spisarova (Czech Music 2006), and Rudolf Komorous and the ‘aesthetic of the strange’ (The Globe and Mail 2010). In addition to the two all Komorous discs already mentioned, recordings of his work have been made by groups such as ArrayMusic in Toronto, pianist Eve Egoyan and the guitarist William Beauvais. In Montreal, kore ensemble mounted a concert in his honour in 2003, and Quatuor Bozzini has performed his work on many occasions. Komorous' music has been performed internationally by numerous ensembles and soloists including: Ostrava New Music Days, Agon, The Netherlands Radio Orchestra, and the SWF-Sinfonieorchester.
Komorous is retired and lives in Victoria, B.C.