Antonín Kohout founded great ensemble and guided the next generation of Czech quartets


Czech cellist Antonín Kohout has died in Prague at the age of 93. The founder of the Smetana Quartet, he performed with the ensemble for five decades. He also taught and mentored many younger Czech groups, including the Wihan Quartet, the Pražák Quartet and the Kocian Quartet.

Kohout founded the Smetana Quartet in 1943 as the Quartet of the Czech Conservatoire. With Jaroslav Rybenský on first violin, Lubomír Kostecký on second violin and Václav Neumann playing viola, the group made its professional debut in Prague in November 1945. Neumann left shortly afterwards to concentrate on conducting; Rybenský switched to viola (he would later be replaced by Milan Škampa), and Ji?í Novák joined as first violin.

The group began recording and touring extensively in the 1950s and was acclaimed for its interpretations of music by Smetana, Dvo?ák, Janá?ek and Martin?, all performed from memory, as well as works by contemporary Czech composers. The ensemble also recorded quartets by Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven.

All four members of the Smetana Quartet were appointed to the faculty of the Prague Academy of Music in 1967. Kohout became mentor to a new generation of Czech quartets, including the Kocian Quartet and the Pražák Quartet (both founded in 1972) and the Wihan Quartet (founded in 1985).