Sunday, December 28, 2014

Iva Bittová - Iva Bittová (Vocals, Violin, Viola) (Pavel Fajt, Drums, Percussion on "Dos Kelbl") Nonesuch 1997

I discovered Iva Bittová's unique music in the 1990's while listening to a radio program from NYC called "New Sounds" which I would tune in to listen to rather religiously. One evening the theme was
both Czech folk music and Czech contemporary composers. Bittová's "River of Milk" (third track on this album) came on and I was transfixed. Her voice (literally and artistically) was entirely her own, and if there's one thing that really sets me afire it's that which is aurally fresh or 'alien', and atypical. My excitement and curiosity blossoms like wildflowers, and the passionate exploration of new avenues of sounds that naturally follows is just such a sublime exercise. With Bittová's music there are barely any reference points. I am a long-time fan of Meredith Monk and she does come to mind, due to the often unusual vocal techniques, but the connection otherwise is entirely superficial. 

Iva Bittová's compositions frequently combine her unique vocal chops with violin or viola (she is both virtuoso and 'fiddler' at the same time I'd say) with Bittová as composer and performer. I hardly find her music to be 'avant-garde', but for many listeners perhaps it will be. Then again Tuvan throat singing (from the lands of Tuva and Mongolia) will sound extremely odd unless one has had exposure to it; from another galaxy it is not, indeed the technique and music are actually ancient. Various initial intellectual and emotional responses to all musics is a given (we can eliminate the majority of *current* 'popular' music..) but it is all about the absorption that can take place if one is open to giving it a shot. That in itself is no guarantee of enjoyment needless to say, however personally I think it's important to give anything a 'second go'. Incidentally, this is not meant to 'prepare' the listener for Bittová's music-trust me this is not Varese or Stockhausen...I am as always, just thinking out loud via fingers ;) 

Iva Bittová was born in 1958 in Bruntál in northern Moravia in what was then Czechoslovakia – and nowadays the Czech Republic. Both of her parents were musicians. Her mother Ludmila was a pre-school teacher who spent most of her life with her family; her father Koloman Bitto – Bittová is the surname’s female form – was a musician strongly influenced by the land of his birth – southern Slovakia. His main instruments were string bass, cimbalom, guitar, and trumpet. This exceptional ability to play almost any instrument he laid his hands on, whether performing in classical or folk music styles, proved a major influence on his three daughters as they grew up. Both of Iva’s sisters – her older sister Ida and her younger sister Regina – are professional drama and music performers.

Iva attended drama pre-school, specializing in violin and ballet. In due course she gained admittance to the Music Conservatory in Brno, often called the Czech Republic’s second city. She graduated in drama and music. During her studies, Iva took part-time engagements as an actress and musician in Brno’s Divadlo Husa na provázku (Goose On A String Theater). She cites these engagements as some of the most formative and influential of her life.

Around this time she also featured as an actress in radio, TV and movie productions. Later on, while working full time in theater, she re-kindled her interest in playing violin, an instrument she had set aside in her younger years. After her father’s early death, she decided to follow in his professional footsteps as an instrumentalist and by composing her own music.

In 1982, Iva started studying with Professor Rudolf Šťastný, the primarius (first violin) of the Moravian String Quartet. In the intervening years the violin has become her life’s passion and the most inspiring musical instrument in her professional life. Iva firmly believes that, as playing the violin places extreme demands on musicians, the composer’s work depends utterly on commitment and diligence.

After living in the countryside near Brno for 17 years, Iva decided to relocate her personal and professional life to the United States. In the Summer of 2007, she settled amid the splendors of nature in upstate New York. Iva shares her Hudson Valley home with her younger son Antonín (born 1991) – also a dedicated musician and another chip off the Bitto block.

Iva Bittová’s countryman Milan Kundera wrote how Europe’s “small nations” form another Europe. The violinist-vocalist may be ‘small nation’ Czech but her musical worldview and visionary creativity acknowledge no borders. Her powers of spontaneous creativity are more bountiful than it is fair to confer on one person. Witness and marvel.

A few words from Iva:

“For many years, I have worked in a range of musical genres, including jazz, rock, classical and opera. Deciding on a name for my style of music is far from over yet. Whatever it is, many of my listeners have long considered it highly original. It has always been everyday life that inspired my music and interpretations. Its inspiration has been total silence and an absolutely positive atmosphere. Those are the most important conditions and surroundings in which when my ideas spring into life. I believe they have a significant impact on my music.”

“The violin accompanies me all the time. Everything around me is under its influence. There are difficult pieces to practice from which I gain discipline, confidence, and self–control – and a healthy measure of doubt. The violin is a mirror reflecting my dreams and imagination. I believe there are fundamentals to my performance, such as the music’s vibration and resonance between violin and my voice. Their ‘symphony’ leads me on to perfection, even though I know it never can be attained.”

Iva has written music for String Quartet among other works, and I will post her releases on Supraphon and perhaps others in the future.

Track listing:

1)Driv Nez (Before) (5:49)
2)Dedecek (Grandfather) (3:03)
3)Proudem Mleka (River of Milk) (4:45)
4)Ne Nehledej (Stop Searching) (14:04)
5)Divna Slecinka (Strange Young Lady) (5:04)
6)Ples Upiru (The Vampire's Ball) (7:42)
7)Dos Kelbl (The Little Calf) (7:18)
8)Paraskeva (7:01)



cjvinthechair said...

Love your enthusiasm for 'things unusual'! Would NOT, normally, be looking twice at this sort of music, but hey, if Mr. Tzadik thinks it's worth a try, why not !
Happy New Year to all if I don't get back before then !

wdriver said...

Thanks for all the fine, unusual repertoire you post. A pleasure - at least an interest - to hear these pieces.

Tzadik said...

Hi cjv, I do hope your new year/holiday time has been great. I cannot promise that you will like this disc-at best you might enjoy a bit of the violin playing which is often rustic (in a Bartokian-influenced-by-folk music sort of way) and i think electrifying. I'm pretty sure knowing your taste (somewhat) musically that the vocals you will be a fan of not.. But perhaps you will like something! -I'm flattered that you would try it based on my posts and enthusiams :) TZ

Tzadik said...

wdriver thank you for your comment, I appreciate it. And you are quite welcome, keep enjoying and...feel free to keep commenting ;) TZ

Hugh Thompson said...


My first introduction to Iva Bittová was a performance of Schnittke's Faust Cantata. Her rendition of 'Es geschah' was absolutely stunning---and at times, terrifying. The performance was posted on youtube, and if you haven't heard it you should certainly do so.

Tzadik said...

Hey Hugh, thanks for stopping by and commenting. No, I don't think I have heard that, hanks for the tip! I have been a fan of Bittová's art for quite a while, I would love to see her live, hopeI get the chance.


Anonymous said...

Ma c'è qualche link che funziona in questo blog?