Karel Boleslav Jirak ranks among the leading representatives of modern Czech music even though he left Czechoslovakia in 1947 to take up a teaching post in the USA (Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University), where he settled down for the rest of his life (1947- 1969).
Jirak was an exceptionally versatile personality ever since his youth. After graduating from a law faculty in 1913, he devoted himself entirely to composing and organizing the country\'s musical life. He was not only a brilliant composer but also an accomplished pedagogue (among his pupils at the Conservatoire in Prague were Jaroslav Jezek, Isa Krejci, Miloslav Kabelac, Klement Slavicky, and Frantisek Bartos). His private pupils were Svatopluk Havelka and Frantisek Kovaricek who both later became well-known composers and teachers. K.B.Jirak was also very succesful as a conductor and choirmaster (for a time he was the second conductor of the Czech Philharmonic and a frequent guest conducting many Czechoslovak and foreign symphony orchestras), organizer of musical life (he was a high-ranking official of the International Society for Contemporary Music) as well as a publicist (penning some 1,000 music reviews and specialized articles published in daily newspapers and musical journals alike). Between 1930 and 1945 Jirak was the director of the Czechoslovak Radio\'s musical broadcasting department.
Although his music teachers in composition included such experienced and distinguished pedagogues as Vitezslav Novak and Josef Bohuslav Foerster, Jirak never received a comprehensive classical training in composition. Having composed some of his early works, which were incidentally steeped in a Smetanean and Fibichian tradition, Jirak assumed the role of a leading avantgarde composer whose chief models were Otakar Ostrcil and Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss in instrumentation. Even though some of Jirak\'s works created during the First World War [namely the First String Quartet, op. 9, Thirteen Simple Songs, op.13, or the String Sextet with Alto Solo op.14] betray Mahler\'s influence, their other qualities safely point to the composer\'s intimate knowledge of the key composition principles of Schonberg. And yet Jirak did not succeed in breaking out of the late romantic tradition in his musical feeling, a fact corroborated by his subsequent works from the postwar years, notably Three Songs of Home to texts by A. Sova, op.18, Psalm No. 23 to the words of the Kralice Bible for Mixed Choir and Orchestra, op.19, Overture to a Shakespearean comedy, op. 22, and especially his Second Symphony in F-major, op.25. In his piano cycle entitled At the Boundary, composed in 1923, Jirak - acting under the impact of the prevailing trends in contemporary international music - attempted to resolve the problem of his stylistic orientation. Try as he might, he still failed to break with traditions, with all that had been dear to his musical disposition. In his subsequent compositions (eg. the Piano Sonata, op. 30, Divertimento for Violin, Viola and Violoncello, op.28, the Second String Quartet, op. 31, the Wind Quintet, op. 34, or in the cycles of songs called Awakening and Rainbow, op.27 and 29 respectively) Jirak set out to highlight the principle of formal conciseness in terms of tectonics and to harmonize the sensual and reflexive components of his creative process. All the time he was well aware of the vicious circle in which modern music of the 1920s was imprisoned and that may have been the main reason why in the following decade Jirak did not write a single composition. After that self-imposed pause he re-entered the musical scene with several major works, particularly the Third Symphony, op. 37, and Symphonic [originally Philharmonic] Variations, op. 40.
Even after his arrival in the United States Jirak changed nothing in his style of composition, essentially remaining to be a profound and convinced lyricist. Although that late romantic disposition still dominated his musical nature, shaping the works created in the new environment, his thorough knowledge of prevailing trends in modern music enabled him to modify his composition technique which - though not precisely ground-breaking or pioneering, rationalistically constructivist or highlighting a single contemporary method - might still be described as neither ecletic nor conservative. Some of the major compositions from Jirak s American period are his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, op. 60 and 90 respectively, four String Quartets, op. 63, 67, 80, and 82, the Second Piano Sonata, op. 64, the Requiem for Soli, Mixed Choir and Orchestra, op. 70, and a number of vocal, instrumental, chamber and concertante works.
All in all, Jirak himself selected from his extensive corpus of compositions a total of 94 works, comprising one opera, 14 cycles of songs, 11 choral compositions, 6 symphonies, 9 orchestral and 11 vocal-orchestral works, 6 concertante compositions,14 pieces for chamber ensembles (trios, quartets, quintets, one sextet and nonet each),12 piano compositions and 21 works for solo instruments (some of them with piano accompaniment) etc. The most widely read among Karel Boleslav Jirak\'s theoretical studies is The Theory of Musical Forms, a book which has so far seen six revised editions and which has also been published abroad.
For Piano Solo
On the Divide, cycle of six pieces for piano op. 24 (1923), UE Wien, CD PA 15\'
Piano Sonata op. 30 (1926), UE Wien, CD PA 20\'
Epigrams and Epitaphs, ten pieces for piano op. 35 (1929) 22\'
Three Poetical Polkas for Piano op. 48 (1944) 9\'
Four Capriccios in Polka Form op. 51 (1945), m SU 12\'
Twelve Piano Pieces for Children op. 62 (1949-1950) 11\'
Piano Sonata No. 2 op. 64 (1950), PA, CD PA 17\'
Five Miniatures for Piano op. 75 (1954-1955), N.Y. Independent Music Publ., CD PA 6\'
Other Pieces for Solo Instrument
Five Little Preludes and Fugues for Organ op. 77 (1957) 27\'
Suite for Organ op. 86 (1958-1964), PA 16\'
Suite for Solo Violin op. 87 (1964) 17\'
Four Piano Pieces for the Right Hand op. 92 ( 1968-1969 )
Passacaglia and Fuga for Organ op. 94 (1971), PA 7\'
For Ensembles (2 - 9 players)
String Sextet with Alto Solo op.14 (1917) 47\'
Sonata for Violoncello and Piano op.15 (1918) 24\'
Sonata for Viola and Piano op. 26 (1925) 17\'
Divertimento for String Trio op. 28 (1925), UE Wien 25\'
String Quartet No. 2 op. 31 (1926-1927) 30\'
Sonatina for Flute and Piano op. 32 (1927) 16\'
Quintet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, French Horn and Bassoon op. 34 (1928-1929) 18\'
Three Pieces for Violin and Piano op. 36 (1929) 10\'
Variation, Scherzo and Finale for Nonet op. 45a (1943) 25\'
Piano Quintet op. 50 (1945), m PA 30\'
Sonatina for Violin and Piano op. 56 (1946) 18\'
Music of Mourning op. 58 (1967) 5\'
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano op. 59 (1947), PA 10\'
String Quartet No. 4 op. 63 (1949) 16\'
String Quartet No. 5 op. 67 (1951 ) 20\'
Introduction and Rondo for French Horn and Piano op. 68 ( 1951 ) 8\'
Three Pieces for Violoncello and Piano op. 71 (1952) 14\'
Sonata for French horn and Piano op. 72 (1952) 16\'
Sonata for Oboe and Piano op. 73 (1954) 15\'
Trio for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon op. 76 ( 1955-1956 ) 16\'
String Quartet No. 6 op. 80 (1957-1958) 19\'
String Quartet No. 7 op. 82 (1960) 24\'
Four Essays for Violin and Piano op. 84 (1959-1962) 13\'
Trio for Violin, Violoncello and Piano op. 89 (1966), PA 19\'
Sonatina for Bass Clarinet and Piano op. 91 (1966-1967)
Sympnony No.1 in C minor op.10 (1915-1916) 53\'
Overture to a Shakespeare Comedy for Orchestra op. 22 (1920-1921) 18\'
Symphony No. 2 in F major op. 25 (1921-1924) 52\'
Symphony No. 4 op. 52 (1945) 30\'
Symphonic Scherzo op. 65 b (1950) 9\'
Serenade for Small Orchestra op. 69 (1951-1952) 20\'
Legend for Orchestra op. 74 (1954) 10\'
Symphony No. 6 op. 90 (1970) 33\'
Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra op. 44 (1942) 12\'
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra op. 55 /1946/ 28\'
Concertino for Violin and Smal! Orchestra op. 78 (1957) 17\'
Lyrical Intermezzo, cycle of five songs for high voice with orchestra op. 4 (1913), text by H. Heine, Czech and German 10\'
Voices of Nature, three pieces for men s choir, No.1 Vere novo, op. 5 (1913-1914), text by Carducci, Czech 10\'
Three Pieces for Men s Voices op.16 (1918-1919), texts by Czech poets, Czech 10\'
Three Songs of Homeland, for low voice and orchestra or piano op.18 (1919), texts by A. Sova and 0. Fischer, Czech 12\'
Evening and Soul, cycle of five songs for medium voice with orchestra op. 23 (1921 ), texts by 0. Fischer, Czech and German 20\'
Awakening, cycle of five songs for high voice with piano or orchestra op. 27 (1925), texts by J. Wolker, Czech and German 20\'
Three Choruses for Mixed Voices a cappella op. 33 (1928), texts by J. Wolker, Czech 18\'
Reconciliation, cycle of five songs for low voice and piano op. 38 (1935-1940), texts by Czech poets and A. S. Pushkin, Czech 15\'
The Year, cycle of twelve songs for low voice and piano op. 42 (1941 ), texts by J. Seifert, Czech 30\'
Love\'s Flowers, cycle of five songs for low voice and piano op. 46 (1943), texts by Z. Spilka, Czech 9\'
The Sweetest Voice, cycle of five songs for medium voice and piano op. 49 (1942-1945), texts by Czech poets, Czech 10\'
Five Patriotic Songs for Mixed Chorus with Piano op. 53 (1945), texts by Czech poets, Czech 15\'
Choruses for Men s Voices, seven choruses a cappella op. 54 (1945-1946), texts by Czech poets, Czech 28\'
Songs of Loneliness, cycle of seven songs for medium voice and piano op. 57 (1945-1946), texts by Czech poets, Czech 15\'
Three Songs, for high voice and piano op. 61 (1947-1949), texts by Czech poets, in Czech 9\'
Three Songs, for medium voice and piano or orchestra op. 66 (1950), texts by S. Teasdale and G. O\'Neil, English 6\'
Requiem Mass (Missa pro defunctis), for four solo voices, mixed choir and orchestra op. 70 (1950-1952), Latin text 58\'
Seven Czech Folk Songs, for voice and piano op. 79 (1957), folk texts, Czech 15\'
Nine Folk Songs, for voice and piano op. 81 (1959), folk texts, Czech 19\'
Wells of Homeland, cycle of six songs for voice and piano, No.1 (1954), No. 2-6 (1960), op. 83, texts by Czech poets, Czech 17\'
Pilgrim s Songs, three songs for voice and piano op. 85 (1962-1963), text by R. Frost, English 10\'
The Spring, cycle of five songs for voice and piano op. 88 (1965), texts by J. Seifert, Czech 10\'
In Memoriam, three pieces for mixed choir a cappella op. 93 (1971 ), texts by Czech poets, Czech 12\'