Composer and musician Ondřej Soukup: Composing a hit is nonsense

Joan of Arc was the first musical you wrote. It premiered in March 2000 at the Ta Fantastika Theater in Prague. How did he come into your life?

I had never had the ambition to write musicals before, I was primarily interested in film music. However, the owner of the Ta Fantastika theater, Petr Kratochvíl, asked me if I would write music for the theater about Johanka z Arku, with Lucie Bílá creating the main role in it. The screenplay was written by Jiří Hubač and was to be directed by Jozef Bednárik. It was an interesting challenge. Basically, I closed at home for a quarter of a year and worked on it for about twelve hours a day.

The musical means a lot to me. It’s a big difference to write loops of film music that have twenty seconds, a maximum of four minutes, a three-minute song or a musical with two hours of continuous music. It is a demanding discipline.

I was absolutely immersed in folding then. When it was done, I considered it my masterpiece of life.

The musical was later played in Spain. Have you seen the studies there?

Of course. It was translated into Spanish by my great friend Gabriel Sopeňa. In the mid-1990s, I wrote music for several Spanish animated films. I flew there for four years and made a lot of friends there. Sopen, a poet, singer and professor of history in Zaragoza, is one of them. He translated Johanka z Arku beautifully into Spanish after a certain Spanish manager offered the Ta Fantastika theater if he would like to go on tour with the musical. Twenty-five performances took place.

The main song of the musical is The Bridge Over the Past, sung by Lucie Bílá. How did it originate?

It was the last song I wrote for the musical. It was created after director Bednárik constantly terrorized me and wanted me to write a radio. I wrote Bridge Across the Past, and without realizing it, it became a very fictional song.

Is it possible to write a radio hit on command?

Composing a programmatic hit is nonsense. It’s always like you compose and compose and suddenly you manage to create a song that people like and it becomes a hit. Some people write more hits in their lifetime, some one and some none. But it is not possible to calculate it.

How did your collaboration with Lucie Bílá start, for which you wrote a number of successful songs with the lyricist Gábina Osvaldová?

Our connection came about by complete coincidence. Gábina and I saw her singing the song Naturträne by the German singer Nina Hagen on television sometime in the late 1980s. It combines an opera register with standard pop, and Lucie did a great job. I have to admit that someone has told me before that she is able to sing even very difficult things. However, I only knew the song Naughty Sneakers from her.

At that time I was working on the project Chess Mat. I invited her to the studio and we made the first recordings together for the project. Later, the title song was created from the film Requiem for a Doll, which she sang. While recording, I got to know her huge expressive and voice possibilities.

I thought that this potential needed to be used, and Gabina and I started writing songs for her. I don’t think anyone else would be able to sing much of them. Then I never came across a talent like Lucie.

With lyricist Gábina Osvaldová and Lucie Bílá.

Photo: ČTK

In the eighties you were a member of the group Prague Selection, so you moved in the rock world. How do you remember that?

I played various music and rock got involved in the form of engagement in the Prague selection. But I basically never tended to rock. Moreover, the Prague selection was not classic rock, but rather a kind of decadent new wave. But Michael Kocáb and Michal Pavlíček composed great music.

Although I never wrote anything for the band, it was a very exposed period for me. And it ended as it ended.

It ended when you left the Prague selection to join the group accompanying Karel Gott. The song SOS was created for that account, in which the other members of the Prague selection basically called you a traitor. Did you argue a lot then?

Not at all. My departure was most sorry for me, because it was Sophie’s choice for me then. The song SOS was then written with my knowledge. I told the boys the passage in the phone call and knew how it would be used in the song.

I’m rather surprised that it didn’t upset Karel Gott. The lyrics of the song are sung: Is the old shop worth such a trigger? Sell ​​yourself to those monsters and turn relationships into a desert.

I think he knew everything very well, but to avoid having to deal with it, he tactfully went over it in silence.

Karel Gott has always been a great professional. Did you perceive it as a member of his band?

Of course. It was a school of simple but complete professionalism. I experienced boys there who came and were very good instrumentalists. But they couldn’t be in that totally professional team. They could not adapt to him and meet the demands placed on them.

When did you have the desire to write film music?

As soon as I started composing. It was around the twentieth year of my life when I studied at the conservatory. Everyone around me folded and I thought I would too. I was also led to film music by the fact that at that time I made a living as a studio player and often recorded it. I was constantly in the studios, filming a lot and how many times I was scared of what I was recording. Sometimes I even wondered why authors compose such nonsense, why they don’t do it better.

But for a long time I thought that composing film music was only for the chosen ones. It never occurred to me that I could do that too. But I tried it once and stayed with it. I never try to fold the so-called cotton wool, because it would be like cheating on my own child. I always try to write the best. I’m not cheating.

Which of your film music are you most proud of?

It is hard to say. For example, in the film Kolja, she is few, just a few twenty-five minutes ago, and moreover, these are very simple musical themes. But she worked and is played independently of the film. On the contrary, in Juraj Jakubisek’s film The Unclear Report on the End of the World, there is about two and a quarter hours of very sophisticated symphonic music. And it works too. I like all my film music.

What are you working on now?

Together with the composer Honza Jirásek, we are finishing the music for Juraj Jakubisek Perinbab’s film and two worlds. I would like to say now that it is finally finished after two years, but Juraj is still remaking it. I’m also starting to compose music for Honza Svěrák’s film Bethlehem Light. We will work together after many years and I am very much looking forward to it.

How do you celebrate your birthday?

The seventies are no reason to celebrate. You know, it’s a different feeling when it’s the holidays on July 10 or August 28. It’s still a holiday, but I don’t think the holidays are celebrated on August 28th.

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