HERE we go again! Yet another fine Scottish composer neglected on her own shores, Geraldine Mucha (nee Thomson) 1917-2012. Her musician father, Marcus Thomson, had studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London (RAM). That was still in the days of Alexander Campbell Mackenzie.

Marcus was a singer but among the many horrific things that war does to people, there are some that get forgotten, such as if you are a singer and are gassed during the Second World War. It affected Marcus’s voice so badly that he had to change from performing to teaching singing, returning to his alma mater under John Blackwood McEwen’s principalship.

His wife, Maisie Evans, also a singer, had studied music in Leipzig and starred in London in Chu Chin Chow (1916) and The Beggar’s Opera (1920), so there will have been no shortage of music in the household.

In childhood such experiences sink in. Result? Their daughter Geraldine could improvise, read and write music before she went to school.

She progressed to become a fine pianist but always knew she wanted to be a composer. In this she was encouraged by Arnold Bax whose love of Celtic music no doubt chimed with her own Scottish inheritance.

In 1935, at the age of 18, she followed her father’s footsteps as a music student at the RAM. This was the year before McEwen retired.

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In 1942 Geraldine married into a leading Czech artistic family, and it is there that her music has been recognised. Her husband, Jiri Mucha, whom she met by chance at a party, was a war correspondent at the time, she a switchboard operator.

He had come to Britain as an airman, flying missions over Africa for the Allies. His father, Alphonse Mucha, was one of the leading lights of the Art Nouveau movement, though he preferred to be remembered as a history painter.

While at the RAM, Geraldine studied composition with the committed communist composer Alan Bush. He shared his pro-Soviet stance with the Scottish composer, Erik Chisholm but, as far as the Muchas were concerned, idealism was to meet a grim and repressive reality when, shortly after the war, they moved to Prague where their only child, John, was born in 1948.

In 1950 the communists arrested Jiri for having collaborated with the Allies. He was imprisoned, and Geraldine was left on her own to fight for his freedom and bring up their son.

As Peter Reid writes: “… there are hair-raising stories of her fending off communist attempts to seize her father-in-law’s ‘decadent’ (and increasingly valuable) collection, while her husband endured forced Labour in the notorious uranium mines at Jachymov.”

Where did her composing fit in with all this? From her early years comes the Overture to the Tempest, which she revised in 1964. It’s a lively and assured response to the elements of storm, drunken humour and fantasy in the play.

Also dramatic is her music for a ballet on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. For this she had the use of a full orchestra and the suite she extracted from it (premiered in Prague in 1965) shows a mastery of orchestral timbre and a sense of drama with its nimble sinister witches and asymmetric rhythms keeping the dance element constantly on its toes.

The suite is full of contrasts, as between the banquet and the darkly evocative Lady Macbeth sleepwalking scene which explores her complex psychological state. The work concludes with a powerful sense of the ultimate courageous but doomed conflict.

The great news is that in the coming year, on April 29, 2023, the complete ballet is to be given its world premiere in Tokyo by The National Ballet of Japan. Maybe Scottish Ballet next?

Much of Mucha’s energy went into the support and release of her husband, which was achieved in 1953. In the 1960s the couple became increasingly involved in the promotion of his father’s work.

As Jiri’s travel was restricted, Geraldine moved to Scotland where Jiri was allowed to make “marital” visits. These they used to travel extensively setting up exhibitions of Alphonse Mucha’s work.

Meanwhile, Geraldine had joined the Czechoslovak Composers Union, and her compositions, including orchestral ones, began to receive public performances.

Her story is fascinating and I only know a little of it, but it is for the beauty of her own music for which she should be best remembered. It is rich in variety and composed with a mastery of melodic instinct, blending Czech and Scottish influences, but is absolutely her own voice.

Her early String Quartet No 1 (1944) is based on Carpathian themes.

“Since she had yet to move to Prague with her husband, it is a mystery how completely she had absorbed central European idiom,” writes Peter Reid in his liner notes to Geraldine Mucha Chamber Music (brilliantclassics 95463).

Her Piano Concerto of 1960 benefits from her spacious musical hymn-like paragraphs in both the opening Allegro and the thoughtful Andante. The close of the first movement is magical: Scotland meets Czechoslovakia in a quiet consummation.

The Andante is mysterious in its romanticism, but its eventual securities are achieved through thought and its re-assurance is anything but superficial.

Mucha has the confidence to use repetition with skill. She breathes deep. The movement earns the lively Molto Allegro which follows it with rhythmic fun and open-hearted engagement. Occasionally teasing, this is spirited writing, with echoes of Martinu’s sprung rhythms and positivity.

The influence of Martinu is heard in other works, such as Nase Cesta – Our Journey (2008) for flute and piano which captures the flute’s capricious alternations between playfulness and sensuality.

IN the three John Webster Songs (1975, orchestrated 1980s) Mucha’s idiom is more dissonant, but always maintaining a lyric progression.

These sinister poems are almost in love with death, even, “All the flowers of spring / Meet to perfume our burying” which is set with a disturbing musical mixture of spring sunshine and admonition, ending with an uncanny grasp at the nets we weave “to catch the wind”.

Similar in inspiration are her settings of William Drummond – Songs of Hawthornden of 1990. The plaintive bittersweet beauty of the idiom is intriguing.

She has selected the poems from Drummond with a seeming emphasis on a desire for solitude, even death: but these are generally characteristic of many of Drummond’s poems and, indeed, of his early 17th-century days.

There is a biographical aspect to her choice of Drummond of Hawthornden, for the family had ties with the earls of Orkney and William the Waster, Jarl of Orkney, and through them to Rosslyn Chapel, which is almost in sight of Hawthornden House.

Mucha was insistent on her Scottishness and thoroughly engaged with her native country. In her last years as a widow she would return to Scotland every summer until her death.

Her son, John, told me: “It was a place where she could recharge all her batteries, find solace and inner peace”.

The house is known as Dee Castle, but also and more accurately as Chapple House.

Mucha’s love of Scotland finds overt expression in her music.

The 16 Variations on an old Scottish Song – Ca’ the Yowes tae the Knowes (1954) has instinctive feeling for the idiom matched by freedoms akin to those which Erik Chisholm took in his own arrangements and, as with Chisholm, informed by her own pianistic skills and not afraid to find grandeur in a shepherding song that was always well able to inhabit the grandeur of the Highlands.

As is proper, it ends with delicate unashamed simplicity. Such instincts rise out of the heather.

Recently unearthed is her String Quartet No 2, which she had set aside for unknown reasons. It was initially composed in 1970, two years after she had left Prague for Scotland, partly to enable her husband to travel internationally by making “marital” visits.

As Peter Reid writes: “The date of the composition co-incides with the renewed oppressiveness of the Soviet regime and the Scottish stylistic hints perhaps are evidence of homesickness. It was written, according to Mucha’s sign-off on the manuscript, in Dee Castle, Scotland, 1970.”

The homesickness may have been felt in both directions for there is a very personal sense of loneliness in this music. The quartet is in a single movement, deeply thoughtful, and revealing fragments of Scottish modal insistence within a broadly chromatic and dark palette of harmonies.

If there is one composer with whose quartet writing this might be compared, it is John Blackwood McEwen who reveals his Scottishness within an equally subtle harmonic and melodic framework and is as capable of the dark introspection and contrasting jauntiness as one hears in this searching work.

The conclusion is almost frantic in its assertiveness. Its ultimate positivity is decidedly equivocal.

Mcuha sustained her creativity well into old age and in 1998, at the age of 81, she composed one of her finest works, the Wind Quintet. This is not an easy medium to balance and not many composers have attempted it, most notable being Carl Nielsen.

One of the finest, Under Northern Skies (1939), is by McEwen but is not usually listed, though here again we find the closest parallel to Mucha, where we are once more under the lyrical weather of Scotland’s northern skies.

The writing for the instruments and the coherence of the ensemble writing are both outstanding.

This essay concludes, however, with the intense Epitaph in Memory of Jiri Mucha for oboe and string quintet, composed on the death of her husband in 1991.

At its centre, it casts aside sorrow with Scottish energy, but the reality of loss remains poignant and lonely in the oboe solo which leads finally to a very personal arrangement of Speed Bonnie Boat.

The song may be a Victorian invention but it has won universal acceptance carrying “the lad that was born to be king over the sea to Skye”. Geraldine was bringing her lad home.

She came home herself, for she is buried at Dee Castle in Aberdeenshire, a family home around which Byron “as a little boy used to create havoc” – according to Geraldine’s son John, for whose help and these images I am much indebted, as I am to Chris Vince of the Geraldine Mucha Archive.

We’ll return soon to Aberdeenshire again for the music of Ronald Center, Mucha’s close contemporary.

Meanwhile, there are two CDs of Mucha’s music available: Geraldine Mucha Chamber Music including String Quartet No 1 and No 2, Wind Quintet, Epitaph in memory of Jiri Mucha, Nose cesta / our journey, variations on an old Scottish song and other short piano pieces (brilliantclassics 95463).

The other CD is Macbeth and Other Orchestral Works by Geraldine Mucha – Macbeth Suite, Songs of John Webster, Piano Concerto (ArcoDiva UP 0192 2 231).

For more information on Geraldine Mucha click here.