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Photo: MZV CZ

Uncovered Grave - Music by Julian Anderson

Composer Julian Anderson belongs among the leading personalities of British contemporary music and we are very lucky that he has been charmed by the Czech Republic and decided to inspire a significant part of his work by our country. We have introduced you his story earlier, so we encourage you to read more about his long lasting relation to Czech music and the country as such.
In July 2021, Julian was impressed by former Ambassador Sečka’s project Never Forgotten, and especially by the documentary film by Max Škach, following its story. Moved by the film’s opening sequence, Julian used his talent put together a touching musical piece that we have decided to share with you today. Please enjoy it together with Julian’s own personal commentary.



                        The Summer Garden Party and the Film Never Forgotten

                        The UK Czech Embassy’s Never Forgotten project has been a memorable cultural achievement of the last two years.  The extraordinary decision to visit every single UK grave of Czech soldiers who fought in World War II brought many important historical facts to light at a time when international connectivity has been placed under unusual strains, none of which would have been dreamt of merely 5 years ago.  Showing how much history we share, and emphasizing how many Czechs contributed to the fight against Fascism in the British army, contributes vitally to mutual understanding and suggests paths for future co-operation and collaboration.

                        Readers of this website may already know of my personal connection with Czech culture, about which I wrote in an article for the Embassy website last year.  The Czech Embassy’s lively Summer Party in July 2021 took on a special character for me as for others.  It was the first party most of us had experienced in nearly 20 months, so it became a symbol of the renewal and rebirth of social contacts so long extinguished.  Although aware of the Never Forgotten project, few of those present would have been aware of its true extent and impact until we were shown Max Škach’s new documentary Never Forgotten in the lecture theatre of the Embassy.  I was privileged, quite by chance, to sit next to the then Ambassador Libor Sečka whose brainchild the whole project was. 

                        It’s extraordinary how much of an impression a short film can make.  This exquisite documentary - unshowy, factual, colourful, modest and endlessly fascinating - created real a stir inside all who saw it then.  The different life-stories, the contrasting cemeteries, the varying styles of gravestone and inscription, the changing seasons, landscapes and times of day unfolded hypnotically in shots of great beauty which touched one to the core.  Never Forgotten, one felt, was not only worth doing in itself: above all it taught one how to value the past and relate it to the present, how to learn from the sacrifices of others.

              The Summer Party which followed was in effect also the farewell event for H.E. Libor Sečka and his wife Sabrina, returning to the Czech Republic after their conspicuously succesful tenure at the Embassy in London.  Anyone who knows Mr Sečka will be unsurprised at the otherwise astonishing range of figures from culture, sport, science and politics whom he and his team had assembled.  Lubricated by vats of the finest Czech pivo and a delicious range of food, conversation bubbled forth happily. Musicians, poets, film-makers, writers, painters, diplomats, scientists, energy conservationists exchanged news, swapped information, planned, discovered each other.  It was exactly what such parties should be, a fine example of what Libor Sečka and his Embassy have always done so well: as E.M. Forster put it, ‘only connect’.  We did. 

                        The partying done, we went our separate ways.  I collected my coat, and by accident caught the start of the Never Forgotten documentary which was playing on loop downstairs.  The opening sequence shows Libor Sečka with the director of the IKON gallery in Birmingham and others, searching for the gravestone of Czech soldier Oldřich Martínek, in unhelpfully grey British weather.   No-one can find it.  Then, abruptly, it is discovered under a thick layer of grass.  Sečka and the rest pull vigorously at the grass to uncover a beautifully carved old tombstone with Martínek’s name and dates: he was nearly 51 years old.  I’d been startled by this vivid sequence when viewing it earlier; on second viewing, it reduced me to tears.  So much is evoked in that moment.


                        Responding to Memories

                        As I returned home, the image of this old grave being uncovered would not leave my mind.  Contrary to rumors, composers don’t get much inspired when composing: it’s hard slog, basically - about as romantic as digging a ditch.  Sometimes, however, the urgent impulse to catch something in sound can result in fresh music.  This is what then happened. I sat at my piano, heard the piece in my head, played it, and worked it out on paper in a single sitting of about 6 hours’ hard slog.  By the following morning, the results were at first a chaotic sketch (Illustration 1 - see below) and finally a neat manuscript (Illustration 2 - see below) - as well as, more prosaically, a visit to my physiotherapist! (Warning to readers: don’t sit at a piano for 6 hours non-stop).

                        A piece of music can aspire to depict something from real life, but it isn’t a drawing of an event or person.  These sounds evoke Never Forgotten for me; perhaps they will for you, too.  At any rate, they reflect my personal responses to the Never Forgotten project, its bringing history to life, its evocation of memory and landscape, and the commitment to sharing freedom. 

                        My piece follows a simple narrative: a lost, searching, uncertain opening; growing excitement; an explosion of joy, a carillon as the grave is uncovered; a gesture of reverence towards the departed; and a final evocation of the two medieval Czech hymns Svatý Václave

                        I have dedicated this music to Libor and Sabrina Sečka, in recognition of their commitment not only to Never Forgotten but to cultural exchange generally.  This short work is also a tribute to all at the Embassy involved in Never Forgotten, and all there who have encouraged me over the past three years in my ongoing engagement with Czech culture. 

                        Leos Janacek once wrote: ‘Composing music isn’t as simple as some think.  It is by and large one of the graphic arts.  It becomes so when, by magic, it catches in its reflections a glimpse of a living being.’ 


Julian Anderson C.B.E.


                        Listen to Julian Anderson's Uncovered Grave Music Track is at Soundcloud






Uncovered Grave