It is nearly impossible to trace the crisis years of 1928-1931 in detail due to the lack of extant documentation. One fact is clear – the ensemble faced its end many times but it was always staved off. During this period the personnel often changed and once there were only four permanent players in the Nonet.
The crisis was finally overcome in 1931 when Emil Leichner, the Nonet revival initiator, managed to bring new members – the Prague Conservatoire professors – to the ensemble including Oldrich Sorejs, Rudolf Cerny, Adolf Kubát, Artur Holas, Jan Fürst, Vilém Kostecka and also Emanuel Kaucky who had left in 1926. With Emil Leichner, they created a new essence of a great creative genius. There were a few successful tours abroad. The Viennese audience as well as the critics were thrilled. (Oesterreichische Gewerbezeitung 9.4.1932).
Also Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were impatiently awaiting the return of the Czech Nonet. In autumn 1932, the press was happy to announce the arrival of their old friends. However, only two of those who had stayed in Klaipeda came – Emil Leichner and Emanuel Kaucky. A wave of disappointment arose. The critiques showed the great popularity the former professors of the Lithuanian conservatoire had enjoyed. (Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung, 29 October 1932).
After the return home, a first night concert was given in the Smetana Hall in the Municipal House, Prague. The Josef Bohuslav Foerster Nonet Op. 147, the Alois Hába heptatonic Nonet Op. 41, the J. Kacinskas Nonet dedicated to the Czech Nonet, the second movement of the J. Mandic Nonet (the work still being composed) and the M. Ponc Largo melodico Nonet were on the program. The concert was organized by The Society for Modern Music. The attendance was poor. The program was evaluated rather indefinitely and unsteadily but the ensemble itself was a great surprise for Prague. In the Lidové listy (25 November 1932) there is a certain hesitation on the possibility of a permanent existence of such an unusual chamber ensemble. ’One cannot help hesitating on the fact a nonet ensemble is quite too large for chamber music and what is more it is rather disproportionate due to the wind instrument predominance.’ The critic who finished by ’we would like to hear it play as a classical music interpreter’ proved himself of absolute incomprehension of the Czech Nonet’s work and importance. His obvious displeasure towards the modern program may well have influenced his attitude to the ensemble.
The Czech Nonet had to fight with incomprehension very often. The critics had a lack of understanding for its unusual composition of instruments and the fact of being dependent on modern repertoire, though composers and audience were thrilled by the existence of such an ensemble. Arguably, the Czech Nonet takes the most credit for presenting modern compositions to the widest public in the 20th century. The Czech Nonet brought about a completely new compositional branch as well as a new performance style which corresponded to the most modern understanding of chamber interpretation. It also presented new pieces where there was no model for interpretation. Its premieres have always been full of such inventions. Maybe that is one of the reasons for the long tradition and the world-wide popularity of the Czech Nonet.
A close connection between the term modernity and the Czech Nonet was revealed in the critical reaction in Italy in April 1933. Along with the Louis Spohr Nonet Op.31 and the Ludwig van Beethoven Septuor, the Josef Bohuslav Foerster Nonet (the first composition ever specifically composed for the Czech Nonet) was performed in the concert. The audience started leaving the concert hall and there was a general displeasure in the press: “As if Rome like other towns couldn’t bear music of any tradition and country or school!” (Il Tavere, 15 April 1933). In December 1933, the Czech Nonet visited Italy for the second time. Fourteen cities had the opportunity to hear the Czech chamber ensemble who gave up to two concerts per day. Such hardship lasted some three long weeks but it did not show in the quality of the performances. The critiques were full of praise. The concert agents used the artists at their maximum. Nobody cared for their comfort or personal interests. During these three weeks the artists had only three days off, two in Rome and one in Messina.
In 1934, the Czech Nonet studied some new pieces. The Prokofiev Quintet for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double base was the most important and significant composition. The piece was first performed in Náchod on 14 April 1934 (the ensemble often premiered new works outside of Prague). This brave piece of music, one of the first Prokofiev compositions presented in the Czech Republic, faced terrible incomprehension. The artists were not discouraged at all. The new works were presented on the radio and the popularity increased steadily. But, the ensemble itself was facing the problem of continued existence all the time. The Czech Nonet was more of a hobby than a job for its members. The musicians, most bound by various duties in orchestras and at the conservatory, found it hard to find time for rehearsals, etc. There was the same problem with touring – finding the time. During their absence the members had to pay the standbys in the orchestras so the salary from the tours was usually shortened a lot. The orchestra managers were not happy to see the moonlighting either. Such a terrible state led to the temporary end of the ensemble. On 1 November 1936, when the professors left the Prague Conservatory, the five-year-long stable membership of the Czech Nonet was briefly ended.
New members came to fill the vacant posts; they mostly came from the Czechoslovakian Radio (Jaroslav Blazek, Frantisek Hertl, Karel Hanzl, and Antonín Hotovy). The work was a little easier, especially when the other members joined the Czechoslovakian Radio (e.g. Josef Hobík). A rather calm and creative period started. This thirteen-year-long era with almost no personnel changes was led under the motto: ’Nine artists, nine friends, nine hearts, one soul.’
The year 1937 brought about great success at the 15th Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music. The festival took place in Paris on 21 – 27 June 1937. The fact the ensemble performed without a conductor was a real sensation. The difficult Reiner Concert for Nonet was performed with an excellent technique. The Commedie de Champs-Elyssées witnessed a great triumph of the Czech modern art on 21 June 1937. The Czech Nonet played the Ridky and Hába Nonet for Parisian Radio. After such a virtuoso performance the ensemble got an honorable mention and Paris found out, again, that Prague was an important center of contemporary music.
In January 1938, the ensemble went on another tour to Italy, giving six concerts. They had a grand success in Florence. The audience, who were known for their not very positive attitude towards contemporary music, demanded an encore! The following performances of the concert season were more or less based on the premieres. The repertoire was enriched by the Children’s Songs and the Nonet in Do by Emil Frantisek Burian, the Divertimento by Isa Krejcí, the Nonettino by J. Francl, The Solstices, Op. 33 by J. Vojácek, the Nonet by S. Osterc and others. The Czech Nonet thoroughly studied all novelties. This fact was not lost on the critic: ’All compositions which bring both interpretative and technical problems were performed with a high standard. The Czech Nonet played with the well-known interest for each work and its style.’ (The Národní politika, 23.4. 1938)
On 16 June 1938, the 16th Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music commenced in London. On their way to this festival, the Czech Nonet presented works by Isa Krejcí, Alois Hába and Otakar Zich for Parisian and Brussels radios. In London, they performed the Kacinkas Nonet, the Bentzen Racconto and the accompanying music to The Songs by Vuckovic and Krejcí. In particular, the work by Isa Krejcí was a great success.
Leaving for London took place in a politically very difficult time. In February 1938, Hitler announced in a public speech that the Sudeten German problem would only be solved by joining the German inhabited areas of Czechoslovakia to the Reich. In May 1938, in the border areas there were political disturbances connected with the redeployment of German troops near the border, which on 20 May forced the then Czechoslovakian government to declare a state of partial mobilization.
In London the Czech artists enjoyed tremendous popularity and sympathy, perhaps as an offset against the political ‘prudence’ of the British government. Vítezslava Kaprálová, a composer and conductor, also took part in the festival and conducted her own Military Symphonietta. The season of the Czech Nonet ended with the festival and its members went on holidays after which they met under much more severe conditions. The tour of London was the last tour abroad before the outbreak of WWII.