Violinist, conductor, and teacher Ottokar Čadek (1897-1956) contributed significantly to promoting the importance of classical music in Alabama. Between 1933 to 1956, he was a performer with the Birmingham Civic Symphony Orchestra and a distinguished member of the music department at the University of Alabama. He was from a long-established musical family whose members continue to hold prominent positions in the classical music world.
Ottokar Cadek Čadek (pronounced Chá-dek) was born on February 20, 1897, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the second of four children of Marguerite Guirard and Joseph Čadek, of Swiss and Bohemian heritage, respectively. Joseph Čadek (1868-1927), a prominent European violinist, emigrated from Bohemia’s capital of Prague (now in the Czech Republic) and settled in Chattanooga in 1892. There, he founded the Čadek Conservatory of Music at the University of Chattanooga (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) in 1904; it remains well-known today. Ottokar Čadek began studying violin with his father, and at age 15 he and his older sister Lillian were sent to the Zurich Conservatory. During this time, he gained attention by winning a number of European competitions. He did the same after returning to Chattanooga, winning American competitions, most notably in 1917 in Chicago, where he was hailed as a young Bohemian violinist. Čadek, however, countered that description by expressing his desire to be considered an American.
When Ralph Pulitzer, the son of St. Louis newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer, and his wife Frederica decided to sponsor a new American string quartet, they expressly wanted four like-minded musicians and in this case, four Bohemian string players. Their friend Ludvik Schwab, a pianist, violist, and composer, helped them found the New York String Quartet in 1919. The 22-year-old Čadek was selected as first violinist. In addition to being among the youngest musicians to play in such a group, he was also one of the first American-born members of a major string quartet in the United States. He played a 1718 Stradivarius violin loaned to him by John Frothingham, a New York businessman, and in 1948, Frothingham’s family gave him the instrument in recognition of his contributions to classical music in the South.
From 1919 to 1933, the New York String Quartet brought chamber music to audiences all over the United States. During its first three years, the group was supported financially exclusively by the Pulitzers as their private quartet, playing frequently for them at their private residences. The New York String Quartet made its professional debut in 1922 in New York City and became known for championing new, especially Czech, music in addition to the standard repertoire. The group was joined frequently by eminent musical colleagues to perform chamber music, including pianists Percy Grainger (1882-1961), Ethel Leginska (1886-1970), and mezzo-soprano Clara Clemens (1874-1962), daughter of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).
Čadek married Nashville native Sara Hitchcock in 1924, and in 1930 their daughter Marie was born. During the Great Depression, the quartet’s performance schedule slowed, and Čadek was faced with difficulties in supporting his family. He left the quartet in 1933, after a final performance in Birmingham, and later that year, he joined the Birmingham Civic Symphony Orchestra (present-day Alabama Symphony Orchestra) first as its concertmaster and then as conductor. He used his connections to bring numerous notable musicians to perform with the orchestra, thus providing Alabama music lovers access to leading figures in the field of classical music. He insisted that program notes for each performance be printed in the Birmingham press before the performances in his efforts to educate the public, and for several years before World War II, he instituted chamber music festivals.
Ottokar Cadek with the Cadek Quartet in 1950 After the war broke out, the orchestra shut down, and in 1943, Čadek and his family moved to Tuscaloosa. The following year, he took up his duties developing the string program at the University of Alabama. In 1946, he founded the Čadek String Quartet, one of a few university string quartets-in-residence in America at the time and a major contribution to the music department. Čadek was the quartet’s first violinist, Emily Searcy the second violinist, Henry Barrett the violist, and Margaret Christy the cellist. Čadek also taught at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, every summer beginning in 1946 and headed its string program. In 1955, the recital hall at the University of Alabama’s newly built Music and Speech Building (now Rowand-Johnson Hall) was named Čadek Hall.
As a revered teacher, he was affectionately called “Papa Čadek” by his many violin students, who cherished his mentorship and spread his musical values nationally. For example, during his high-school years, John Dalley, second violinist with the renowned Guarneri String Quartet, lived in Tuscaloosa for three years with the Čadek family. Dalley was with the Guarneri Quartet from its founding in 1964 until its disbanding in 2009.
On July 25, 1956, Čadek was a member of a quartet performing one of Johannes Brahms’s quartets when he collapsed on stage and died of a heart attack. He was buried in Nashville’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. Čadek’s daughter Marie Guirard “Jerrie” Čadek Lucktenberg (1930-2009) followed in her father’s footsteps in teaching the violin at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. Čadek’s granddaughter, Kathryn Lucktenberg, today continues the family tradition, performing and teaching as a violin professor at the University of Oregon.
Ottokar Čadek Family Collection, W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Benser, Caroline Cepin. “Bohemia in America: Ottokar Čadek and the New York String Quartet.” Alabama Heritage 14 (Fall 1989): 2-17.
Siskovsky, Jaroslav. Fiddler on the Hoof: The Odyssey of a Concert Violinist. Philadelphia: Dorrance and Co., 1975.
Steinhardt, Arnold. Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1998.