APRIL 2020

Musicologist Dr František Popelka has passed away

On April 16, musicologist and great promoter of Martinů Dr František "Iša" Popelka has sadly passed away at the age of 87. To commemorate Dr Popelka, we publish some of the birthday greetings on his 85th birthday written by Ivan Štraus, former director of the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation and David Junek, director of the Municipal Museum in Polička.​

Dr. František Popelka turns 85 
David Junek

Those interested in Bohuslav Martinů and his music are surely also familiar with Dr. František Popelka, an ardent promoter of the composer’s legacy. This year, he is celebrating a significant anniversary (he was born on 19 February 1933 in Polička). The “Dr.” before his name is important for the Polička natives because it distinguishes him from his father, František Popelka sr. (1908-1989), a violinist, bibliophile, museum curator and an “old-school” enthusiast, who too was a great champion of Martinů’s music. In order not to be mistaken for his father, Dr. Popelka also signed himself as “Iša”, the children’s form of his first name.   

Already in 1957, the musicology graduate from Masaryk University in Brno conceived the first large Martinů exhibition at the Polička Museum (followed by another one in 1973, and the installation of the updated display in 1984). For a long time, František Popelka jr. worked as an editor for the Supraphon label in Prague. From 1984 to 2000, he served as a musicologist at the Polička Museum, profiling and processing its ample Martinů collections. Polička’s reputation and prestige were markedly enhanced by the revival in 1984 of the Bohuslav Martinů Monument exhibition, marking the 25th anniversary of the composer’s death. František Popelka has curated a number of exhibitions and written a plethora of articles. Especially noteworthy is his book Martinů and Polička, an exclusive publication that further promoted the artist and his native town alike, and in its own way also demonstrated the author’s moral standing – although the manuscript was handed over in the middle of 1989 (before the Velvet Revolution), not a single sentence had to be omitted or replaced when it was published in the spring of 1990. Throughout his life, František Popelka has been an ardent, self-sacrificing promoter of Martinů’s music, a bastion of scholarly expertise and a helpful colleague.   

He initiated and curated the first few editions of the Polička 555 festival (from 1992) and the Martinů Fest (from 1996) – both of which happily continue to this day. 

We wish František Popelka all the very best on his birthday, good health and continued satisfaction! 

Iša Popelka
Ivan Štraus

The glory of a father may be a shining jewel for the son, but he who seeks honour must attain it for himself…

This holds true in the case of František (“Iša”) Popelka (b. 1933), who will celebrate his 85th birthday this year, even if the family calling is dynastic and one is afforded the necessary background and acumen at home, which may accelerate the rise to the top.    

Iša Popelka’s father, František Popelka (1908 – 1989), who knew all the members of the Martinů family, was an accountant by profession, but he was also a skilful violinist and an ardent promoter of culture. In the 1930s, he began gathering Martinů-related materials, thus laying the foundations for the collection that is currently maintained at the Bohuslav Martinů Centre, part of the Municipal Museum in Polička. By installing the very first independent permanent exhibition at the Museum in 1945, František Popelka Sr. established the Martinů tradition. It was he who in 1945 proposed that the square by the Saint James Church be named after the composer, and it was he who in 1947 inspired the reconstruction of the room in the church tower in which Bohuslav Martinů was born and its opening to the public. He organised cultural events and held lectures. In 1948, František Popelka Sr. co-founded a music school that in 1949 – after obtaining the composer’s consent – was christened the Bohuslav Martinů Music Institute (subsequently, the Bohuslav Martinů Music School).  A few years later, the composer’s name had to be removed, but in 1988, the 40th year of its operation, it was given the official title the Bohuslav Martinů School of Arts. Popelka’s endeavours were thus crowned with success after four decades, and still during his lifetime.  

František Popelka Jr., who, so as not to be confused with his father, began using “Iša” as his first name, studied musicology at Masaryk University in Brno. In 1957, following his graduation, he created his first large-scale Martinů exhibition at the Polička museum. 

For many years, he worked for the Supraphon label. From 1984 to 2000, he was employed at the Bohuslav Martinů Memorial, processing Martinů-related documents. His relentless efforts led to the publication of the books Martinů and Polička (1990, Panton) and Letters Home (1996, Mladá fronta). Iša Popelka initiated and compiled the programmes of the first editions of the Polička 555 festival (from 1992) and the Martinů Fest (1996). A keen promoter of Martinů who for decades has striven to present the composer’s legacy both at home and abroad, he is a true expert, always ready to give advice and provide help to those around him. Iša Popelka is wholly dedicated to the subject of his interest – Bohuslav Martinů. 

Some musicologists grow together with “their” composer to such an extent that it is difficult to separate the two. (A prime example in this regard was Nejedlý and “his” Smetana.) Iša Popelka is not of this ilk. At the very moment when he entered Martinů’s circle, he took up the position of a devoted “secretary”, a connoisseur serving his idol with the utmost professionalism, without basking in glory, now and then enduring hardship and the disfavour of those in power (experienced even more acutely by Popelka Sr. in the early 1950s), yet unceasingly emphasising the importance of Martinů’s music in his own country and beyond.   

There are several genuinely profound experts on Martinů’s personality and oeuvre around the world. Iša Popelka is one of these. The sheer scope of his work is formidable indeed. He has written dozens of Martinů-related articles, essays, lectures, prepared dozens of music editions and concert programmes. When strength wanes and new enthusiasts emerge, following the footsteps of their predecessors, they can pursue a wide road, as the Popelka family has explored the archives in Polička so thoroughly that the young researchers can simply focus their attention on the documents that are yet to be processed. That which the Popelkas took on has been completed. Iša Popelka has also provided us an example of language that is concise, readable, noble and thoroughly congenial, a mode of expression that serves as an appropriate model for all promoters of Bohuslav Martinů and his work.

Having accomplished his mission, he can certainly be satisfied. With his diligence and love, he can serve as a shining example for all those working to preserve the Czech national legacy. Let us hope that Iša Popelka has many more years left to savour life and the joys it affords, even at a ripe age.