Friday, April 15, 2011

A Czech interlude

i m Hannah Kodicek 1947-2011

A brief detour from my usual territory, as I remember a dear friend who died last week.

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Walking around the back of Prague castle, we make for a small baroque church. Hannah pushes at the door: ‘It’s not always open.’ The oak yields and the group of us make our way in for another dose of the outsize baroque statuary that Prague churches specialize in. But the church is filled with sound. High in a balcony, so far up that we can’t see the music stands and work out what’s being played, a tiny group is rehearsing what sounds like an 18th–century cantata. Just a couple of string players, the organist, a flautist, and a soprano. The singer and flute duet, producing a series of cascading runs, Italian syllables echoing across the church and tumbling down towards us, aping the apparent movement of group of gilded putti that seem to be falling headlong from the ceiling.

There is no way we can interrupt these musicians, totally absorbed in what they are doing, to ask them what it is they are playing. So we keep as quiet and still as we can, and listen as they play on, their notes as light and bright as the sun shining on the gilded statues and candelabra. It’s a wrench, finally, to leave, but we have had, at least, an experience of that perfect marriage of music and setting, of sight and sound, that is typical of this place and typical of the woman who has brought us here.

She liked this coming together of the arts of music and architecture, this Gesamtkunstwerk, as too she loved opera, and the joys of a well restored, well decorated house, and the pleasures of being immersed in nature (in southern Bohemia especially) or being surrounded by beautiful buildings (in her beloved Cesky Krumlov, the southern Bohemian town that she made her home, above all). And when it came to a joining together of the arts, she knew what she was talking about. A pianist trained in Prague and London, a painter, a successful actress, a writer, a restorer of houses, there seemed to be little she could not do. But hers was not the planetary ego of the star. It was typical of her that she should work as a story editor, toiling in the background to help bring focus and credibility and pace to film scripts written by others, including that of the oscar-winning The Counterfeiters.

The generosity with which she threw herself into the task of working on a script, only complete focus and commitment being acceptable to her, was mirrored in the generosity with which she gave time to her friends. She introduced us to so many aspects of her beautiful, baffling, sometimes exasperating central European country. We were and are enriched by her insights into everything from alchemical symbols on buildings in Krumlov to Czech social customs, from the structure of Czech words to the behaviour of a litter of kittens on her sitting room floor.

As I look back I realise that the times I spent with her were often quite short. But at each meeting she would throw revelatory light on whatever it was we talked about, and that light and the warmth associated with it drew one into the field of her insight and creativity. And they remain, these feelings, now that she is gone, and make one believe in the truth of what Michael Bywater wrote at the end of his meditation on loss, Lost Worlds: ‘Loss sheds its light on what remains, and in that light all that we have and all that we have had glows more brightly still.’

* * *

An obituary can be found here.

6 comments:

bazza said...

Beautifully written Philip. She would have been proud of that eulogy.

Hels said...

Anyone who liked an integration between music and architecture, as well as the pleasures of both nature and the man-made landscape, sounds like an intelligent and well rounded person to me. Cesky Krumlov is gorgeous... what a great choice! But 63-4 is tragically young :(

bazza said...

Philip, you may be interested in this post.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you both.

And thanks for the extraordinary photograph, Bazza.

Chloe said...

Hannah looked after me when I was a young girl for years and taught me the wonders of fairies, laughter and print making. I am collecting the prints we made together and stringing some new ones to attach to the tree outside her old home in Blackheath on Friday.

What a magical and powerful women she has always been.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chloe: We were privileged to know her.