Composers Datebook®

Ancerl and the Czech Philharmonic

Composer's Datebook - October 20, 2023


On today’s date in 1950, Karel Ančerl was named the artistic director of the Czech Philharmonic, a position he would hold for the next 18 years.

Ančerl had first conducted the orchestra in 1930, when, upon graduation from the Prague Conservatory, he led that ensemble in one of his compositions. For a time, Ančerl debated whether to be a composer or a conductor. He opted for the latter, demonstrating a mastery of classical and contemporary scores with other orchestras in Czechoslovakia.

With all that in mind, it might not seem all that surprising that in 1950, he was eventually tapped to lead the Czech Philharmonic — but that would be ignoring the miracle that Ančerl was even alive in 1950.

In 1942, Ančerl and his family were imprisoned in the Nazis’ notorious Theresienstadt concentration camp, and, in 1944, they were transported to Auschwitz, where his wife and young son were killed. He alone survived.

In 1968, when Czechoslovakia was invaded by Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops, Ančerl emigrated to Canada in protest and served as music director of the Toronto Symphony until his death in 1973.

Music Played in Today's Program

Bohuslav Martinu (1890 - 1959) Symphony No. 5 - Czech Philharmonic; Karel Ancerl, cond. Supraphon SU-3694-2

On This Day


  • 1874 - American composer and insurance executive Charles Ives, in Danbury, Connecticut;

  • 1890 - American composer and jazz pianist Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, in New Orleans (In older biographies, his birth date is incorrectly given as September 20, 1885);

  • 1944 - American composer William Albright, in Gary, Indiana;


  • 1842 - Wagner: opera, "Rienzi," in Dresden at the Hoftheater;

  • 1847 - Lortzing: opera "Undine" (2nd version), in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien;

  • 1860 - Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 in Bb, Op. 18, in Hanover, by violinist Joseph Joachim and his ensemble;

  • 1892 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera " Mlada," at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Eduard Napravnik conducting (Gregorian date: Nov. 1);

  • 1923 - Delius: "A Dance Rhapsody," in London, conducted by Sir Henry Wood;

  • 1949 - Hartmann: opera "Simplicius Simplicissimus" (first staged performance) in Cologne at the Theater der Stadt (Kammerspiele); The premiere concert performance of this opera by the Bavarian Radio occurred in Munich on April 2, 1948;

  • 1950 - Hanson: "Pastorale" for Solo Oboe, Strings and Harp, with oboist Marcel Tabuteau, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1952 - Peter Mennin: "Concertanto (Moby Dick)" for orchestra, in Erie, Pa.;

  • 1958 - Hovhaness: "Meditation on Orpheus," by the Houston Symphony, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1960 - Lukas Foss: "Time Cycle for Soprano and Orchestra" at New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Bernstein, with soprano Adele Addison the vocal soloist;

  • 1974 - Elliott Carter: Brass Quintet, on a BBC broadcast from London, with the American Brass Quintet; The American premiere occurred at the Library of Congress on November 15 that year with the same performers;

  • 1974 - Henze: "Tristan" for piano, orchestra, and tape, by the London Symphony, Colin Davis conducting;

  • 1977 - Michael Colgrass: "Déjà vu" at New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Leinsdorf;

  • 1983 - Menotti: Double-bass Concerto, by the New York Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta conducting, with James VanDemark as soloist;

  • 1985 - Lou Harrison: Piano Concerto, in New York, with Keith Jarrett the soloist.

  • 2004 - Peter Maxwell Davies: "Naxos Quartet" No. 5 ("Lighthouses of Orkney and Shetland"), at Wigmore Hall, London, by the Maggini Quartet;


  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in b, Op. 6, no. 12 (Gregorian date: Oct. 31);

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®