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The Czech harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková, who died in 2017 at age 90, masterfully performed contemporary works by her compatriot Bohuslav Martinu, Manuel de Falla (Supraphon SU41172) and Růžičková’s own husband, the composer Viktor Kalabis (Supraphon SU41092). Two weeks after she met the ghostwriter and former Daily Telegraph war correspondent Wendy Holden, later an author of light-hearted pop fiction and screenplay novelisations, Růžičková died. So Holden, who has ghost-written various celeb memoirs for Frank Sinatra’s widow, Dean Martin’s daughter and Goldie Hawn, cobbled together this patchwork quilt of a book from interviews Růžičková previously gave to other media outlets. The result is presented as a continuous first-person narration.

Růžičková survived imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War only to experience further suffering at the hands of an oppressive Communist regime. Yet she was first and foremost a musician, so defining her primarily as a war victim is reductive. Holden has written other, better nonfiction on shell shock, Nazi camps, etc. Apart from familiar homilies about the inspiring power of Bach’s keyboard works, One Hundred Miracles lacks incisive musical awareness. It identifies Martinu as ‘the Czech librettist … a man who went on to be a great composer of modern classical music’ (p50). Later in the book, he is reintroduced as ‘Bohemian composer Bohuslav Martinu in case the reader has forgotten. Wanda Landowska is name-checked as ‘a world-famous harpsichordist’ who recorded ‘compositions by the French composer Francis Poulenc and the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’. We are told nothing more about these compositions or Růžičková’s interpretations of them.

An inappositely breezy, bluffstyle of writing seems to be addressed to a young adult readership. It does not capture the essence of Czech musical experience before, during and after the Second World War. A much- needed, thoroughly documented biography by a specialist in Central European music would demonstrate Růžičková’s historical importance and lasting impact. This is especially desirable, as Růžičková’s recordings of Baroque works, like those of most harpsichordists of her era, have dated in style, choice of instrument, recording techniques and other aspects of interpretation.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Piano International, 2019 - ©Rhinegold Publishing