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Iva Bittova: Knowing, Feeling...

Ian Patterson By

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The success of Bílé Inferno led Bittová and Václavek to form the band Čikori with Kučera, Honzák, and drummer Miloš Dvořáček. An album simply titled Čikori (Indies Records, 2001) followed. Though the record can be seen in some ways as a natural extension of Bílé Inferno, the music is quite distinct: "The spirit and feeling were already different, because we tried to build a band," says Václavek. "But, yes, it was like a follow up to Bílé Inferno."

The music on Čikori is more urgent and has a darker soul than Bílé inferno, and ranks as one of Bittová's most striking works. For non-Czech speakers, Bittová's music can be frustratingly inaccessible, since the meaning of her lyrics is lost: "The lyrics are very important in our music," says Václavek. "They're not just to fill out the music. But if you are sensitive to music then somehow it's complete even if you do not understand the words."

After Čikori, some years passed without any further collaboration between Bittová and Václavek, as the singer embraced new musical challenges. Václavek has watched Bittová's progress with interest and is no way surprised by her versatility and success: "Iva Bittová is one of the most important figures in the history of Czech music. I can't think of anybody on her level, with her power. In Czech today, people follow styles; they play like somebody. Iva's way is really original and she follows her way with complete conviction."

Three decades after first playing together in Dunaj, Bittová and Václavek continue to play duo concerts and have recently reactivated Čikori, with a new album planned for 2014.

The range and diversity of music that Bittová has turned to over the years is remarkable. Her chameleon-like musical persona increasingly defines Bittová as an artist. She has recorded an enchanting collection of children's songs with child musicians, Kolednice (BMG, 1995), which includes a delightful re-interpretation of "Ave Maria." With Dorothea Kellerová, she gave a stunning performance of Béla Bartók's 44 Duets for Two Violins (Rachot Behemot, 1997), leading to international tours. Bittová's album Classic (Supraphon, 1998) saw her interpret the music of Czech composer Leoš Janáček alongside the internationally renowned Škampa Quartet, with whom Bittová would further explore Janáček's catalog, six years later, with Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs (Supraphon, 2004).

Enter the album name hereThe distinguished Slovak composer Vladimir Godár contributed special string arrangements for the Škampa Quartet on Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs. It was a reunion of sorts, since Godár had composed the music for the film "Tenderness," which featured Bittová as its lead actress. Bittová and Godár solidified their working partnership in another standout performance of Bittová's career, on Godár's modern classical masterpiece, Mater (ECM, 2007). The sixty-minute suite, based on religious and secular texts, was almost stillborn before it began. Godár explains: "For a long time I had been dreaming of setting the text of Stabat Mater to music. However, when I heard Arvo Part's Stabat Mater, I gave up the idea, as this piece appeared to me so impeccable—there was nothing more to say."

The inspiration finally arrived while Godár was working with Bittová on the music for the film Landscape: "I started once again to occupy myself with Stabat Mater, as the juncture of the voice and violin embodied in one person inspired me. I chose the old, Slavonic church translation for my Stabat Mater, and I wrote it for Iva. At the premiere, Iva was singing and simultaneously playing the solo violin, but for the recording I divided these two tasks between two performers. Thus, my Stabat Mater was inspired by her musicality joining string and vocal renditions, her intonation and the emotion with which she performed the music. The whole of Mater was later based on the knowledge of her extraordinary musical skills."

The Mater project assembled the talents of violinist Miloš Valent, the chamber ensemble Solamente Naturali, conducted by Marek Štryncl, and the Bratislava Conservatory Choir, led by choirmaster Dušan Bill. The live premiere took place at the Bratislava Music Festival in 2003. To see Bittová bring life to his compositions was clearly an edifying experience for Godár: "This concert was an immensely moving event for me. It fulfilled many of my long-held contemplations as well as actual expectations."

Three years later, the recording of Mater was released on Manfred Eicher's legendary ECM label to widespread critical acclaim, bringing global attention to Godár and Bittová. For Godár, this release held special significance: "I have to admit that this was one of my age-long dreams. ECM has released music of many composers who were always very close to me and who were very important for my own development. I was very happy to find myself among the people who I have related to for a long time already."

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