Emil František Burian

01.05.2010 | 00:00
Emil František Burian

Unpredictable and troublesome
Another personality who was, during the Nazi occupation, an involuntary “guest” of the Small Fortress in Terezín, was Emil František Burian (June 11, 1904, Pilsen – August 9, 1959, Prague). This exceptionally talented Czech dramatist, as well as art theoretician, journalist, poet, singer, actor, musician, composer and director, undoubtedly ranks as one of our most highly visible pre-war personalities.

He was born to a musical family in Pilsen. His father Emil Burian (1876–1926) was an opera singer, his mother Vlasta was a teacher of singing and uncle Karel (1870–1924) was an excellent tenor. E. F. Burian began his studies at Grammar School (1914), but later enrolled in the State Conservatory in Prague, from which he graduated in 1927. At the age of 19 he joined the Communist Party and at 21 the National Theatre staged his opera “Before the Dawn”. He was a member of Devetsil, an association of Czech avant-garde artists. He is connected with the beginnings of the Osvobozené divadlo (Prague Free Theatre) or Da-Da Theatre, where he co-participated in performances as a composer, musician, actor, director and author. In 1927 he founded E. F. Burian’s Voiceband and had several successful engagements, mainly as a director. In 1933 he founded the well-known D 34 Theatre, where he worked as the director until his arrest by the Gestapo.
He had shown his disapproval of the Nazi occupation far too openly and his theatre was closed down on March 12, 1941, Burian was arrested together with Nina Jirsíková, who had participated with him in the Voiceband production (1929) Mácha’s poem May (Jirsíková later staged it also in the Terezín ghetto). Soon after, Burian was moved from Pankrác prison to the Small Fortress in Terezín, from where he was transported in June 1941 fi rst to Dachau and then to Neuengamme near Hamburg, where he worked at an arms factory. It is a miracle that he survived the war since on April 26, 1945 he was driven onto the Ocean Liner Cap Arcona together with over 4,500 prisoners from the Neuengamme concentration camp and the survivors of the Death March from the Fürstengrube camp. The Nazi plan was to take the Cap Arcona and the cargo ship Thielbek out to the open sea and sink it together with the prisoners. However, on May 3, they were attacked by the British Royal Air Force and were sunk. There were only 400 survivors and Emil František Burian numbered among them.
After returning home Burian became involved in rebuilding Czech theatrical life and from 1946 he headed the “D” Theatre (later to be E. F. Burian’s Theatre, today’s Archa Theatre). After the 1948 Communist takeover he became a deputy and in 1954 he was awarded the title of National Artist. He died in uncertain circumstances of liver failure. Burian married three times. From the second marriage to Marie Šubrtová he had a daughter, Kateina Burianová-Rajmontová (1946), actress and poet, a member of the National Theatre ensemble and holder of the 2009 Thálie award. His son from the third marriage to actress and writer Zuzana Koová is songster Jan Burian.
Katerina’s son, Burian’s Grandson, is Filip Rajmont (1977), actor and voice-over artist. Although the work of E. F Burian was strongly infl uenced by the left, he was criticised by both the “left and right” and considered by his comrades to be unpredictable and troublesome. However, his theatrical productions, mainly of the pre-war period, positively infl uenced modern Czech theatre which draws from his creativity even today. Written in May 2010

Luděk Sládek


foto © Památník Terezín a Wikipedie

Book of births Theatre performance from 1937 Cap Arcona, luxurious German ocean liner Cap Arcona, luxurious German ocean liner Emil František Burian Burian's letter to Terezín of Oct. 13, 1947 Burian’s voiceband Burian’s brochure Sweep up the Stage! Obrázek č.9

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