Antonín Rejcha was born in Prague on 26 February 1770. After leaving the Czech lands at age 11 (he returned only once for a brief visit, in late 1805 or early 1806), he adopted the spelling Anton (later Antoine) Reicha, by which name he was known throughout the remainder of his life. Most of his works were published under the name Antoine Reicha, including those produced in German lands. Unlike most Czech emigre musicians of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Reicha largely ceased to speak, and eventually forgot, his native tongue.
Most Czech emigres of this time were more or less forced to adopt foreign spellings for their names in whatever countries they settled in, not least to render them pronounceable in their adopted tongues.
This was true of the brothers Pavel and Antonín Vranický. In Vienna, they were called Paul and Anton Wranitzky, and it was under these names (or the variants Wranizky and Wraniczky) that their published compositions appeared. An anglicized spelling, in rendering Vranický as Vranitzky, provides a roughly accurate guide to correct pronunciation for English speakers (the "c" in "Vranický" is pronounced with a "tz" sound).
In my writings here, I have more often than not chosen to use anglicized spellings for Rejcha and Vranický. In Rejcha's case, this was due partly to the fact that he is already at least mildly well-known, as Reicha, in the West. And though Vranický is almost completely unknown, I love the sound of his name so much that I wanted to render it pronounceable to English-speaking people who are otherwise unfamiliar with it. In both cases, I freely admit my reasoning may constitute mere rationalizing on my part.
Hence this note. There are many good reasons to support the restoration of the original Czech spellings of these and other composers' names. On the other hand, variations in the spelling of composers' names regardless of nationality were quite common at the time – as Haiden, Mozzard, and Bethofen could attest. Indeed, the universally accepted spellings of those three composers' names in use today are, at least in part, posthumous normalizations that the composers themselves would not necessarily have entirely approved.
In my opinion, the Czech composers of the Classical Era are, as a group, the most talented contemporaries of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven – certainly they are the most neglected today. This must change. Restoring the original Czech spellings of names – and teaching English and other speakers how to pronounce them – is an eminently worthwhile endeavor. Yet I can't help but wonder: given his lifelong fluency in French and German, and the almost total loss of his native Czech, in what form would Antonín Rejcha himself prefer his name to be remembered? The issues involved remain complex.
Copyright © 2000 by Ron Drummond.