Geraldine Mucha

August 3, 2013

Geraldine-Mucha2

Geraldine Mucha, née Thomsen, was born on 5th July 1917 in London. She was born into a musical Scottish family. Her mother enjoyed success as a singing-actress and appeared in several notable London musical productions. Her father, Marcus Thomsen, was a popular concert baritone. He was missing in action in 1917 when she was born. When he returned, rescued by Belgian peasants, his voice was wrecked by mustard gas. Unable to perform professionally he turned to teaching and became Professor of Voice at the Royal Academy of Music.

Encouraged by her father, the young Geraldine was given lessons in harmony after school with the composer Benjamin Dale, a professor at the Royal Academy. She was introduced to Sir Arnold Bax, a prominent figure in British music, by his daughter Maeve, who was her school friend. Bax took a keen interest in Geraldine’s music and would often play through her latest compositions and discuss them with her. She continued her studies in composition and also conducting more formally at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Here she studied harmony with Benjamin Dale, and also met composers Alan Bush and William Alwyn.

In 1939 the War intervened and although the Royal Academy remained open, Geraldine was obliged to combine her studies with working on a telephone switchboard. She still found time to compose incidental music for an anti-fascist play, however, and to make musical arrangements for the BBC.

In 1941, while visiting her aunt as a student, Geraldine met in Leamington Spa her future husband; the writer and journalist Jiri Mucha – at the time a BBC war correspondent and RAF Flying Officer – and the son of Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha, who died in 1939, and recent widower of the composer Vitězslava Kaprálová, who died in 1940. Following the fall of France, Jiří along with most of the Free Czech Army succeeded in escaping to England. They came to be based at Leamington Spa, where he met Geraldine at a party. Their love kindled that night when singing The Skye Boat Song.

They married in 1945 and returned together to Prague in the autumn to live in Czechoslovakia. Things were to become difficult when the Communists came to power in 1948.

The Muchas were targeted because of their so-called bourgeois roots and they were forced to abandon the house Alphonse Mucha had built. Jiri – because of his links with the BBC and the RAF – was imprisoned because of his links to the West and interred in a uranium mine for four years. The secret police came to confiscate their belongings but as Geraldine then claimed they belonged to her – and she was still a British citizen – they left their home alone. Geraldine stated she started composing “to take my mind off things”.

On Jiri’s release from prison he was denied the right to travel. As Jiri wanted to go abroad to organise exhibitions of his father’s art, they sought a loophole. Geraldine stated in an interview:
“Somebody advised us. They said, if I would return to Scotland and simply live there, he could then apply through a different channel for a visit to his wife in our shared home in Scotland – which he did. I went to Scotland, I lived in my mother’s house in the Scottish Highlands – this is in the 70s. I had to invite him, of course, but he never came near Scotland, naturally, he went off and did an exhibition. Well, he did come occasionally but it was too remote. He was all on edge to be doing the exhibitions. And then, of course, we met up in all sorts of interesting places.” The Communists seemed to tolerate this breach on realising the revenue the exhibits brought to Czechoslovakia, though it has also been alleged that Jiri became a Czech spy.

When the Communist regime ended in Czechoslovakia in 1989, the Muchas returned to Prague. Geraldine continued to regularly visit Scotland each summer.

Jiri died in 1991 and Geraldine composed the Epitaph In memoriam Jiří Mucha. It ends with a haunting evocation of the Skye boat song.

Throughout Geraldine Mucha’s work there are strong Scottish themes. She was to write 16 Variations on a Scottish Folksong, for piano in 1957 and a ballet Macbeth in 1965. Her Orcadian descent is noted in the work Carmina Orcadiana written around 1960.

Geraldine Mucha died in Prague on 12 October 2012. She was 95 and still an active composer. She said in 2007: “I just can´t help composing. It´s what I do”.

Her Divertimento is available. Written especially for The Arlequin Trio, it features on their CD: