West Coast woods are tinder dry by the end of the summer, and composer Rudolf Komorous, whose house is surrounded by statuesque Douglas firs and cedars, knows it wouldn’t take much to ignite them. Yet many of the pieces he has written over the course of an extremely productive life are physically present in only one place: his home. He has packed his scores and manuscripts into suitcases – ready to roll them out the door if that fire materializes – but it’s like keeping one’s savings under the mattress. They’re close at hand, but they’re not really safe. Komorous turned 80 last year, however: “And I am thinking about my legacy,” he says.
Komorous came to Canada in 1969 from his native Czechoslovakia, where he was associated with the avant-garde Smidra group and its “aesthetic of the wonderful.” His oeuvre includes orchestral, solo, chamber and vocal music and two operas; he wrote his most recent composition, Minx, for Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble in 2010.
Having taught at both the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University, a huge part of his legacy is alive in the minds and music of the many composers who studied with him. But Komorous’ music will speak directly to future generations only if they know about it. Happily, a great deal more of that extraordinary music will soon be accessible to performers across the country for the first time.
Komorous hoped to consolidate all his scores at the Canadian Music Centre, which lacked at least three dozen works. He’s submitting both newer works and older, handwritten manuscripts, which will be cleaned up and scanned or typeset before digitizing. He has met a few detours, though, ranging from locating lost scores to re-translating titles and double-checking revised scores. Of at least one piece he’s confessed, “I think that the first version may be better than the last!”
Copyright laws prohibit the Centre from holding those pieces that were published commercially, so the CMC collection will still be incomplete. As Bob Baker, CMC’s regional director for British Columbia points out, “a publishing company’s priority is to make money, not promote a composer’s legacy. Fortunately, as a library, the CMC has a different mandate.” (Partly for this reason, the CMC has revamped its publishing activities, and performers can now purchase CMC scores, which are typeset and specially bound.)
In addition to the scores, Komorous has sketches, letters and assorted papers, which he originally intended to donate to the University of Victoria Library. But since the CMC will digitize these, too – storing originals safely in its archives in Toronto – it makes sense to have everything in one place.
And so the suitcases are getting lighter, even (at press time) as the first fall rains arrive.