In the fall of 2006, we posted a piece connecting two important Czech artists, one a novelist, the other a pianist. This week, the story they gave us drew a comment from yet another Czech artist who was there when it happened during the Soviet domination of Czechoslovakia. Here is the original item from November, 2006. I encourage you to follow the first link below, then come back to this page.
In the recent Rifftides piece about Freedom and Josef Škvorecký, I named several jazz musicians from former Communist countries who have risen to the top of their profession. One of them was the Czech pianist Emil Viklický.
The world is small and tightly interconnected. A day or two after the piece appeared, I got a message from Viklický informing me that he knows Škvorecký “quite well” and that he contributed an important element to a masterly–and very funny–Škvorecký novel. Emil wrote:
“There is my long letter to him, written in 1974 to Canada, published as a resolution of novel The Engineer of Human Souls.”
The Engineer of Human Souls rambles through life under the Nazis, the Communists, academia and the human condition. In this brilliant roman á clef, the narrator, a Czech professor of literature teaching in Toronto, is Škvorecký once removed. One of the characters from his Czech past is his friend Benno Manes, described by Viklický in his message as “dirty speaking fabulous trumpetist.” Viklický discloses that Manes’ had a counterpart in real life.
“Škvorecký of course changed all real names to fictive names. It was necessary back in 1974. The letter describes the death of Pavel Bayerle, bandleader, trumpeter, a close friend of Škvorecký. I was in army big band in October 1971 when Bayerle died of heart attack on the stage while conducting the band in Russian-occupied army barracks in Olomouc. Bayerle was 47 then. My letter to Josef remained in the novel practically intact. Škvorecký received my letter just when he was finishing Engineer.
Škvorecký changed Olomouc army barracks to Bratislava Russian barracks. In Russian barracks, we often played longer improvisations mostly ending in aggresive free music. It was our kind of protest. We knew that Russian listeners didn’t like it that way.”
As it appears in the book, the letter mentions a singer, Miluska Paterjzlova; a guitarist named Karel Kozel, “a big handsome fellow with a green Gibson;” the MC, Private Hemele; and a trumpeter called Pavel Zemecnik who helps the letter writer, “Desmosthenes,” pull the stage curtain closed when Benno Manes dies as he is conducting. They were fictional names of Viklicky’s real bandmates.
“Real singer name was Helena Foltynova, lately married as Helena Viktorinova, still singing some backgrounds for pop stars now. She was Marilin Monroe type of beauty, at the time simply stunning. Guitarist real name was Zdenek Fanta, his Gibson was dark red colour. Private Hemele is well-known actor Jan Kanyza; Trumpeter, who closed yellow curtain from the other side, was Petr Fink. Bayerle died in the 5th bar of letter D of his own song.”
From Viklicky’s letter to the author about Benno Manes’ death in Škvorecký’s novel:
“The last thing I remember, and I’ll never forget it, was how he was lying there in that empty hall on an empty stage, with his huge belly completely purple, and dark grey trousers, and you couldn’t see his head for the stomach, and all around there was yellow bunting, that awful yellow bunting. Yellow and purple, maybe the bust of some statesman behind it but all I could see when I looked into the hall for the last time was that ghastly purple stomach and the yellow bunting. Then we left for Prague. I thought you might be interested in how your friend died.”
They went on to become friends, the novelist emerging as a major literary figure; the pianist about to leave the army, devote himself to jazz and become one of Europe’s most famous jazz musicians. Viklický adds:
“When my quartet played in Chicago in 1991, Škvorecký came down from Toronto and stayed with the band for a few days. I think he was fascinated by musicians’ talk, because he stayed through rehearsals as well. Backstage slang in ’91 was probably different than back in the ’40s when Škvorecký was young. But he seemed to love to listen to it. And maybe put it into his next novel.”
Yes, the world is small and tightly interconnected.
Now, three years after that Rifftides piece, from the Czech Republic comes a comment from Petr Fink, the trumpet player who helped Viklický pull the curtain when Pavel Bayerle died. Mr. Fink’s comment is in Czech. I showed it to Emil, who kindly volunteered to translate it. He included a footnote, marked by an asterisk. The Czech version follows Emil’s translation.
I was there on that evening when trumpeter-bandleader Pavel Bayerle died on stage while conducting his own song “Pohádka a sen,” (“Fairytale and Dream.”). I was the last and the only one, to whom Pavel turned his eyes. I saw his eyes, totally desperate, full of pain. After that there was the fall. He went down. Next, some army doctor jumped on stage with a large syringe* for the heart. But it was the end. Pavel was lying on the ground with large belly. Soldiers didn’t want to cover him, perhaps afraid of dirtying something, but after 15 long minutes, finally they had covered him with some kind of red rug.
Next day the band drove by bus to Prague and I was sitting in his front seat, with his civilian clothes on the hanger in front of me. There was a tie, which I took as a memory. Then I was asked to arrange for big band a medley of Bayerle´s most known songs: (“O nas dvou, Pribeh nasi lasky, Pohadka a sen” ( “About Two of Us”, “Story of our Love” and “Fairytale and Dream”). When we played that medley at the funeral ceremonies, people started crying.
Greetings, Petr Fink
Here is Viklický’s observation.
*I certainly doubt that. Russian doctor didn’t have any syringe ready in his pocket. I saw the scene myself. I was closing that yellow curtain and came to Pavel from the other side of the stage, where the grand piano was. The doctor only tried to massage Pavel´s heart. He tried hard. Perhaps later somebody brought him a syringe, but I dont think so.
For those who read Czech, here is Ptr Fink’s message in the original
Jsem účastník (trumpetista) onoho večera, kdy kapelník Pavel Bayerle zemřel na jevišti při dirigování své písně “Pohádka a sen”. Byl jsem poslední a jediný, na koho se v té chvíli obrátil pohledem a já spatřil jeho zoufalé, bolestí zkroucené oči a pak už jen pád na zem. A dále jen jak přiskočil jakýsi vojenský doktor s velkou injekcí přímo do srdce. Ale byl konec. Vojáci ho nechtěli přikrýt, aby se něco neumazalo, až asi po dlouhé čtvrthodině, kdy Pavel ležel na zemi s obrovským nafouklým břichem, ho přikryli nějakým rudým hadrem! Druhý den se jelo do Prahy a já seděl v autobuse na jeho předním sedadle, před sebou na ramínku jeho civilní šaty s kravatou, kterou jsem si nechal na památku. Byl jsem pověřen upravit pro Bayerleho pohřeb směs jeho písní (O nás dvou, Příběh naší lásky a Pohádka a sen). Při této směsi, kterou jsme s orchestrem hráli, lidé začali plakat.
Zdraví Petr Fink