Tribute to Zdeněk Liška 

Tribute to Zdeněk Liška


It wasn’t until the 21st century that the world began to appreciate fully the exceptional qualities of Zdeněk Liška (1922–1983) – a composer who devoted his life to Czechoslovak film. The 100th anniversary of his birth now gives us an opportunity to look back at his career.


Between the years 1950-1981 Liška wrote the music for an incredible number of feature films – approximately one hundred and fifty scores in total. Add to this his music for hundreds of short films and his television productions. What’s important, however, is that we are not here to commemorate Liška for the quantity of his output: his compositions were pivotal in many respects, particularly in the late 1950s, throughout the 1960s and beyond.

Zdeněk Liška built up a reputation as a co-author who took into account not only the music, but also the complex sound of the entire film. And that’s not all: he considered things the way a screenwriter would and looked upon the cinematic gesture as a whole. For the Verne adaptation Invention for Destruction (1958, dir. Karel Zeman), he took advantage of new electroacoustic sounds and also approached the director with a suggestion for a different, brisker film edit. Zeman recognised the quality of the proposal and accepted it. Invention for Destruction ultimately became Czechoslovakia’s biggest film export.

Liška was able to tell different stories through various musical genres. He was a symphonist and he also had a strong affinity for both the municipal folk ensemble and the village wind band. In the Sixties he wrote the scores for historical films, comedies and films for children. In 1963 he created the music for Jindřich Polák’s sci-fi Icarus XB 1, an endeavour which proved to be of fundamental importance in that it represented one of the major early achievements in electronic music in this country. The quest for expression via electronic music reflected Liška’s legendary appetite for innovation: for the court drama Accused (1964) he arrived in the recording studio bearing a score for typewriters.

The 1960s were highly constructive years for Czechoslovak cinema. Liška was approached repeatedly for collaboration by major filmmakers with very different approaches – the surrealist Jan Švankmajer and the animator Hermína Týrlová, while František Vláčil gave Liška plenty of scope in his historical frescoes Marketa Lazarová and Valley of the Bees. The composer also teamed up with the directing duo Ján Kadár & Elmar Klos for the drama The Shop on Main Street (1965), which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Liška conjured up a famously mellifluous, paradoxically enchanting score for director Juraj Herz’s sarcastic, Nazi-era horror flick The Cremator (1968). For those who would like to hear Liška as a symphonic writer, moreover, with a rare gift for incorporating vocal lines without text, the festival has included one of the masterpieces of Věra Chytilová and cinematographer Jaroslav Kučera, Fruit of Paradise (1969).

Pavel Klusák

  • Fruit of Paradise Ovoce stromů rajských jíme / Ovoce stromů rajských jíme
    Directed by: Věra Chytilová
    Czechoslovakia, Belgium, 1969, 95 min

    One of the cinematic masterpieces of the Czechoslovak New Wave, Fruit of Paradise is a highly stylised blend of detective story, parable and comedy of morals. For this project director Věra Chytilová brought together the same team she had worked with on her previous endeavour, Daisies, namely film designer and screenwriter Ester Krumbachová and cinematographer Jaroslav Kučera.


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