By © Karla Hartl
Vítezslava Kaprálová was born on January 24, 1915 in Brno, the provincial capital of Moravia (now Czech Republic), which was then still a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was an only child who grew up in a musical family: her mother, Vítezslava Kaprálová (1890-1973), née Uhlírová, was a classically trained singer; her father, Václav Kaprál (1889-1947), was a composer, writer, music critic, and teacher who had studied with Janácek. Kaprálová started composing at nine under the guidance of her father. At fifteen, she entered Brno Conservatory where she studied composition with Vilém Petrzelka and conducting with Vilém Steinman and Zdenek Chalabala. Her creative output at the Conservatory included Five Pieces for Piano, two violin pieces Legend and Burlesque, a remarkable piano sonata Sonata appassionata, and Piano Concerto in D minor, Kaprálová's graduation piece which she conducted herself at its premiere in Brno in 1935. It was her first public appearance as conductor and she made quite an impression upon the local audience. After the graduation, she spent the summer at her family retreat in the village of Tri Studne, where she sketched her first and only string quartet, an ingenious work that "blends something of the spirit of Janácek's Intimate Letters with a free chromaticism reminiscent of Berg's op. 3." 
In the fall of 1935 Kaprálová moved to Prague, where she hoped to advance her technical skills at the Prague Conservatory. She was accepted into the masterclasses of the composer Vítezslav Novák and the conductor Václav Talich, then the foremost personalities of Prague's musical life, and her music was soon programmed by two most important societies of contemporary music in Prague in the 1930s: Prítomnost (The Presence) and Umelecká Beseda (The Artistic Forum). At the Prague Conservatory Kaprálová further developed her style that combined the best of Czech modernism with elements of French impressionism and German expressionism in a highly original synthesis. The music Kapralova composed in Prague included the critically acclaimed songs Forever and Waving Farewell, and her best known piano work April Preludes. She graduated from the Prague Conservatory with a composition for large orchestra, the Military Sinfonietta. Composed in 1936-37, at a time of political unrest in her homeland, the work was chosen by the National Women's Council to be premiered at their annual gala concert in the presence of Edvard Benes, President of the Czechoslovak Republic, to whom the work was dedicated. The premiere took place at the Lucerna Hall in Prague on November 26, 1937. Kaprálová conducted the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra - the first woman to do so (she held this record until 2009 when it was broken by Marin Alsop). Witnesses recalled how highly unusual it was for the orchestra to perform under the baton of such a young conductor, especially when that conductor happened to be a woman, but Kaprálová's professionalism and her energetic gestures were persuasive arguments even for such experienced players. After the first few bars of the score, she won over the hundred-piece, all male, orchestra completely.
In October 1937, a month before the premiere of her Military Sinfonietta, Kaprálová moved to Paris to study conducting with Charles Munch at the Ecole normale de musique. She originally planned to study with Felix Weingartner in Vienna, but on Karel Bohuslav Jirak's recommendation and after meeting with Bohuslav Martinu earlier that year during his short visit to Prague from Paris, she decided instead to seek a government scholarship to study in France.
Paris was to broaden Kaprálová's intellectual horizons. The city's musical life in general and the concerts of La Societé de la Musique Contemporaine (Triton) in particular were immensely important for her development as an artist. Here she heard the latest works of Bartók, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Prokofiev, Milhaud, Honegger, and Martinu, and later also saw her own works performed. She was particularly attracted to the music of Stravinsky, and her Suita rustica from 1938, a large orchestral work commissioned by Universal Edition (London), pays homage to his Petruschka. Of course, among the new impulses and influences that helped develop Kaprálová's voice was also the music of Bohuslav Martinu who became for the next two years her mentor. Their relationship was not a typical teacher-pupil relationship but rather one of two colleagues who spent hours arguing the tenets of composition and analyzing each other's works. Kaprálová's only neoclassical work - Partita for Piano and String Orchestra - can be considered a direct result of those discussions.
Kaprálová's charismatic personality, beauty, and immense passion for life inspired the aging Martinu. His Tre ricercari, the intimate String Quartet No. 5,  and the powerful Double Concerto, all from 1938, reveal some of the strong emotions stirred in him by Kaprálová. Yet he also admired her music and recommended to one of his publishers, Michel Dillard of La Sirčne Editions Musicales, to publish Kaprálová's Variations sur le carillon de l'église St-Etienne du Mont, op. 16, an ingenious work for keyboard she had completed several months earlier. Although Kaprálová had already been published in Czechoslovakia, this was her first international recognition. Martinu also had faith in her abilities as a conductor - so much so that he had her conduct a performance of his Harpsichord Concerto in Paris, on June 2, 1938, with Marcelle de Lacour as soloist. Two weeks later Kaprálová arrived in London for the 1938 ISCM Festival as one of the four finalists who were selected by the Festival's international jury to represent contemporary Czech music. She opened the event by conducting the BBC Orchestra in her Military Sinfonietta at Queen's Hall on June 17. Her performance generated quite a bit of excitement, and both her composition and performance earned her respect and applause from the BBC Orchestra, the audience, and the critics. She received excellent reviews in dailies and journals that covered the event, including Time Magazine and Musical Opinion.
After such two eventful semesters abroad Kaprálová was eager to return home for the summer holidays. She could not know that this was to be her last visit to her homeland. When she returned to Paris in January 1939, the world she knew was already disintegrating. In February she composed her last work for violin and piano, Elegy, to commemorate the life and work of the Czech writer Karel Capek whose passing on Christmas Day 1938 was mourned by the whole nation. A month later, on March 15, German soldiers marched in the streets of Prague. Three days after the forceful annexation of her country, Kaprálová, emotionally exhausted, began working on her Concertino for Violin, Clarinet and Orchestra. The dark, despairing work contrasts sharply with Kaprálová's energetic Military Sinfonietta, composed just two years earlier, still so full of youthful optimism.
Separated by war from her loved ones, Kaprálová was now looking to Martinu for all of her emotional support. The two began planning their future together as far from vulnerable Europe as possible but nothing came of the plans, as Martinu was unable to make up his mind and leave his wife, and Kaprálová spent the summer alone in Augerville la Rivičre. She returned to Paris in September but left again to spend a couple of weeks with the Martinus in their home at Vieux Moulin, bringing with her a friend she met a few months earlier among young Czech students in Paris. The friend was to be her future husband, Jirí Mucha.
That fall, Paris began preparing for war. Kaprálová now lived with Mucha and a few mutual friends in a sort of bohemian commune in the city's Quartier Latin. Mucha worked for the weekly Ceskoslovenský boj, an official publication of Czechs and Slovaks in exile, for which Kaprálová wrote concert reviews and articles on various musical subjects. He was also involved in a regular broadcast to occupied Czechoslovakia, and soon found an opportunity for Kaprálová to participate; as a result, on the Christmas Day of 1939, his program featured Kaprálová's miniature Prélude de Noël, her last extant orchestral work.
The year 1940, Kapralova's last, began promisingly with the great success of Kaprálová's April Preludes performed by Rudolf Firkusný at a Triton concert on January 28. That winter and spring Kaprálová worked on a number of commissions, including some incidental music on which she collaborated with Martinu. By March Mucha was no longer in Paris. Like many other young Czechs in exile he volunteered for army service in Agde, southern France. As Kaprálová was growing restless in Paris, he returned in April for a few days. They married on April 23. Five days after her wedding Kaprálová composed a song, Letter, which was to be her last composition in a genre in which perhaps she excelled most. In early May, around the same time Kaprálová was finishing her very last work, Deux ritournelles pour violoncelle et piano, she suffered the first symptoms of the illness that was to claim her life. On May 9 she was briefly hospitalized in Vaugirard Hospital, on May 20 evacuated from Paris to a small university hospital in Montpellier, and on June 16, 1940 - the day France fell - Kaprálová died, at the age of 25.
In 1946, the foremost scholarly institution in Czechoslovakia, the Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts, acknowledged Kaprálová's distinct contribution to Czech Music by awarding her a membership in memoriam. She was one of only ten women members, out of more than 640 domestic members elected to the Academy since its inception in 1890, and the only woman musician.
In her short life, Kaprálová composed over fifty works in a variety of genres. Particularly well represented in Kaprálová's oeuvre are her songs that have been considered one of the late climaxes of Czech art song. Together with the composer's sophisticated works for the keyboard, they have remained the most vital part of the Kaprálová repertoire. Kaprálová's orchestral works are lesser known and, with a few notable exceptions, have yet to be discovered. The orchestral catalog is strong and includes two orchestral songs, two piano concertos, a sinfonietta, a symphonic ballad-cantata, a concertino, a ballet-suite for large orchestra, and a couple of minor classics for chamber orchestra. Relatively least represented in Kaprálová's compositional output is chamber music, but the compositions she did produce in this genre are often remarkable, be it her early string quartet or her last opus - the ritornel for cello and piano.
Although a few Kaprálová compositions were published during her lifetime and several more published and even recorded soon after her death, it was only in the late 1990s that any concentrated efforts were made to publish and release Kaprálová's works systematically. The founding of the Kapralova Society in Toronto in 1998 has played a seminal role in this revival of interest in Kaprálová's music. The same year Studio Matous released in Prague a first profile CD of the composer, with the assistance of the Society. A Supraphon recording of Kaprálová's art songs followed in 2003, a result of the dedicated efforts of the Society's member, Timothy Cheek, Associate Professor of Voice at the University of Michigan School of Music, and the financial partnership of the University of Michigan and the Society. In 2008, a third all-Kaprálová release, this time by Koch Records in New York, added significantly to the Kaprálová discography with her piano and chamber music recordings. This project too was encouraged and financially assisted by the Society. The fourth profile CD of the composer, released by Czech Radio with the assistance of the Society in 2011, and featuring Piano Concerto in D-Minor, closed a gap in Kaprálová recordings. Most important among the projects the Society encouraged and assisted over the past decade, however, has been the Kaprálová Edition - a joint effort of the Society and Amos Editio, Baerenreiter, and Czech Radio - to make Kaprálová music available in print. More than two thirds of Kaprálová compositions have been published to date, many in a first, critical edition. While the Czech Radio and Baerenreiter have been primarily interested in Kaprálová's orchestral catalog, Amos Editio has focused on publishing Kaprálová's songs, works for solo piano, and for piano and violin. Among the publisher's greatest achievements to date has been their complete, critical edition of Kaprálová's songs, expertly edited by Timothy Cheek, an exemplary publication that exudes professionalism and dedication of its production editor Veroslav Nemec. In 2012, the Czech Music Council awarded the publisher a prize for excellence, quoting as an example the Kaprálová Edition, published in collaboration with the Kapralova Society.
Besides making Kaprálová's music available on record and in print, the Society has encouraged and often financially assisted world premieres and other important performances of the composer's music. Finally, the Society has been playing a key role in promoting and advancing knowledge about the composer by assisting scholarly research, publishing an online periodical, Kapralova Society Journal, and maintaining a website, kapralova.org.
 Jirí Macek, Vítezslava Kaprálová (Prague: Svaz cs. skladatelu, 1958), pp. 52-53.