Jazz pianist and composer Emil Viklický receives honorary doctorate from Palacký University

Emil Viklický, world-famous jazz pianist and composer, received the honorary doctorate degree at the Archbishop’s Palace in Olomouc.
Photo Gallery: Vojtěch Duda and Martin Višňa
Friday 24 November 2023, 15:27 – Text: Milada Křížková Hronová

Emil Viklický, a prominent Czech jazz pianist and composer, received the doctor honoris causa degree at the Archbishop’s Palace in Olomouc. On the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the establishment of Olomouc’s university, he received its highest honour for his extraordinary merits and contributions in jazz.

Emil Viklický is a remarkable personality on both the Czech and international music scenes of the 20th and 21st centuries. He received the honorary doctorate upon a proposal of the Scholarly Board of the UP Faculty of Education, which was confirmed by the UP Scholarly Board.

“Emil Viklický is one of our alumni whose names we mention with pride and respect, while basking in the rays of glory and success they have achieved in their careers through their efforts, skills, and diligence. This is especially true in the case of Mr Viklický, as he studied the natural sciences at Palacký University, not music – to which he has dedicated his life and thanks to which he has gained a worldwide reputation,” said UP Rector Martin Procházka.

When Viklický studied numerical mathematics at the UP Faculty of Science, he was already fully immersed in music. Before he started his professional career as a jazz musician, he founded his own quartet Musica Magica, then the Jazz Sextet of Emil Viklický. He was also hired by the “Bigband” of Věroslav Mlčák, where he gained swing and big band music experience by playing at dancing lessons and balls. During his military service he played in the military art ensemble Pavel Bayerle’s orchestra, and in the early years of his professional career in various groups, for example in Karel Velebný’s SHQ. Since jazz, along with other free-minded artistic expressions, was rather suppressed in the Czechoslovakia of the time, these experiences of his were crucial for the development of Czech jazz.

The laudation in honour of the laureate delivered by Vojtech Regec, Dean of the UP Faculty of Education, mentioned that the jazz rock band Energit, later called Energit of Luboš Andršt, also played a formative role in Viklický’s career. It was in this group that Emil Viklický fully emerged as a distinctive soloist and composer.

In 1976, when he succeeded in the International Jazz Piano Competition in Lyon, and then in a composition competition in Monaco, he was offered a scholarship to Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music. Before he left for the USA, however, he released his album V Holomóci městě [In the Town of Olomouc]. It won the 1979 Supraphon Prize and was hailed as “emphatic”, “original”, and “exciting”.

“The album showcases something distinctive and characteristic of Viklický’s music: original expression arising from the creative processing of stimuli from folk art set into a new context. Moravian song with its typical modulation – combined with jazz piano improvisation – is the basis of Viklický’s new improvisational expression and at the same time perfectly built and compact style, a perfect musical architecture based on pure jazz and the roots of Moravian folk music,” said Dean Regec.

Viklický’s intensive artistic activities, as well as many years of cooperation with outstanding jazz musicians in the Czech Republic and abroad, have borne copious fruit – not only in the form of albums, but also in respect for Emil Viklický as a personality. Although he received his musical education while studying jazz at Berklee College in the United States, he never forgot that he had studied at the UP Faculty of Science and was always proud of his alma mater. During his half-century-long career, he has made the Czech Republic and Palacký University famous perhaps on all continents.

“It is so special and emotional for me to be on the premises of this university after so many years and at such a solemn moment for me. I gladly remember not only the time of my studies, but also some of the teachers,” said Viklický in his doctoral address. Above all, he highly spoke of the Czech mathematician, composer, and choirmaster Miroslav Jiroušek, who supervised his thesis in algebra. He recalled how he came to the topic of his thesis, and how consultations on the topic, for which there was no mathematical literature at the time, were conducted.

“Determinants, and hence symmetric polynomials, were considered a dead end or a marginal direction at best in algebra in 1970. Prof Jiroušek, however, was of a different opinion. I remember the extremely interesting meetings at his house. Apart from mathematics, we talked about music, about Wagner, about his Tristan chord, and also about Schillinger’s musical method. I defended my thesis successfully, and was urged to study for a doctorate,” added the recipient of Palacký University’s highest award. In telling his life story, he stopped briefly in 2019.

“Almost fifty years later, I received an invitation from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics in Prague to attend a lecture by Christian Krattenthaler entitled ‘Mathematics and Music? Personal Views on a Difficult Relationship’. When Christian came to know the topic of my thesis and the time of its creation, he asked me what I had actually based it on in 1971. Then he sent me the very first study on the subject, which was only published in 1979.... The wonderful thing about this story is that Prof Jiroušek had a vision that came true. He believed that symmetric polynomials were not a dead branch of algebra. I regret that I was unable to fulfil his hope that I would continue in this field. In the context of the time, it was truly impossible for me. I am sorry that he is no longer with us and that he cannot take part in this great honour for me," said the new honorary doctor from Palacký University, who also received a commemorative medal at the conclusion of his speech.

Since 1990, Palacký University Olomouc has bestowed honorary doctorates to five dozen personalities who have contributed significantly to the development of science and culture or have otherwise contributed to the benefit of humanity. Emil Viklický thus joins the club consisting of such personalities as former Czech and Czechoslovak President Václav Havel, chemist Antonín Holý, and plastic surgeon Bohdan Pomahač. An overview of all UP honorary doctors can be found on the university’s website.


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