Written by Carol Sanford
for IWAP’s The Bridge magazine
London born of Scots heritage on both sides of the family, Geraldine Mucha, who will be 90 next July, embodies much of twentieth century history of England and the Czech Lands.
Her concert singer father (Geraldine still has some of his recordings) was missing in World War I when she was born. Saved by Belgian peasants, he returned to London, his voice ruined by German gas, to become a professor at the Royal Acadamy of Music where Geraldine later studied piano and music composition. She saw such music greats as Rachmaninov, Strauss and Elgar.
After World War II erupted, Geraldine worked for the war effort as a telephone operator. She was visiting some elderly relatives in Lemmington Spa when she met the artist Alfons Mucha´s son, Jiri, who was in the Royal Air Force (RAF), at a party. He later became a war correspondent for the BBC. After a whirlwind romance, they married and lived in a flat near Marble Arch in London. Jiri covered the war as a war correspondent while Geraldine stayed in London where she became an honorary Czech because of her associations with Czech émigrés. She went to charity events in Czech costume, once sitting near the late Queen Mother. Jiri was involved with the Czech Government in Exile which supported freeing the Czech Lands from Nazi rule.
Soon after the war ended, Geraldine and Jiri came to Prague where they lived with Jiri´s mother, Alfons Mucha´s widow, and his sister. (Alfons died in 1939 soon after being interrogated by the Nazis). They split their time between Prague and Železna Ruda where Geraldine still has a chalupa. They raised their only son John which was particularly difficult when Jiri was jailed for three years by the communists for working for the Evil West when he was in the RAF and BBC.
While he was in jail, Jiri wrote a diary that became a book and Geraldine composed music “to take my mind off Jiri in jail” she said. Geraldine was a copy editor for the state music publishing house and composed in her free time. In the 1960s she wrote large- scale works, a piano concerto and a ballet.
She has kept composing through the years. When I visited her on February 16 of this year, she said she had just given her latest composition for flute and piano, finished at the beginning of 2007, to members of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra who were going to perform it. “I just can´t help composing. It´s what I do,” said Geraldine. Her compositions are performed in Prague and other Czech towns.
After his release from jail, Jiri was a scriptwriter. He started promoting his famous father and in 1962 had the first Mucha exhibit abroad in London´s Victoria and Albert Museum which was a huge success. In the 1970s Geraldine went to live in London, which enabled her husband to get a visa to get out of communist Czechoslovakia to visit his wife and to organize more foreign exhibits. The communists ignored Mucha – they considered his posters too bourgeois degenerate – but were happy with the foreign currency the exhibits brought to the country.
After several years in England, Geraldine returned to Prague to stay. After Jiri died in 1991, John established the Mucha Foundation, then Mucha Trust, so future generations will be able to see the collection of Mucha´s art intact. Geraldine lives among the furniture, the art and artifacts of Alfons´s life, telling tales she heard from her mother-in-law about him. She strikes deep chords in the many visitors that come to her home at Hradcany so they leave with a strong imprint of this indomitable woman.