On 23 September 1939, a general mobilization was declared and Germans captured the Czech border area. Hard years of fighting against German occupant fascism started. The Czech Nonet chose new methods of work, too. As proof one may consider the concert in Moravian Ostrava on 23 January 1939, where ’The Year 1938 Nonet’, an Otakar Jeremiás composition from December 1938, was first performed. The composition was influenced by the fatal events of that year. The composer himself asked to have the work first performed in Moravian Ostrava. The work, dedicated to the Czech Nonet, had a subheading of ’The Czech Chorale’. By its existence and theme, it bound the Nonet members together during the time of German occupation. As it had been characterised in the programme concert before: ’The original Saint-Wenceslas Chorale and the Hussite chant are used as motifs in this composition in which both the passivity and activity of the past sad days is expressed. The work ends in hope of a better future – and that is the message for which it has been created.’
The next premiere of the year was the Chodská Suite by Zich. Again, by its name it is a symbolic piece for that time. Both compositions belong to the most often presented pieces during the occupation. The programmes with the quotation from the Hussite chorale used in the first one, ’tent Pán velí se nebáti záhubcuv telesnych’ (whom the Lord says not to fear the mortal perditors) appealed as a manifesto mostly in Hitler’s Reich countries, where the Czech Nonet regularly traveled to meet their embattled fellow-countrymen. Dozens upon dozens of concerts in the country and Prague meant tireless performance of new pieces. That totalled 42 premieres during the war, with three quarters being original compositions for the Nonet. The ensemble took part in dozens of radio productions, too. The Czech Nonet put up more than honestly with the conditions the hard times of occupation and WWII had brought.
After the end of the WWII, the Czech Nonet entered the concert season with Hertl’s arrangement of the Czech Dances by Bedrich Smetana. However, after the success at the first Prague Spring, one can see the hard work conditions, the poor economic situation of the ensemble and survival worries of its members: ’One will have to see to the fact members of this as well as other outstanding chamber ensembles will be relieved of the necessity to find one’s living by playing in orchestras and other activities. Only under such conditions can we expect them to concentrate on chamber music.’ (Stepán Lucky, Ceské vykonné hudební umení a festival in Rytmus 9 – 10, 1946, p. 22 – 24, quotation from p. 23)
Only after the Czech Nonet’s first 20 years of existence did the public start to be interested in its harsh work conditions. It would be another five years before a real change in conditions occured, however, the Czech Nonet continued representing Czech music internationally. Concerts in Austria, Switzerland, France, the UK, Poland, Hungary and Italy followed. The newspaper critiques were full of praise. One success followed another.
Tours abroad, many concerts at home, 27 premieres: that‘s the list form the years between 1946 and 1951. The public as well as the critics were most pleased. In 1949, a tiredness started to appear slowly. The extreme workload and disunity reflected in mutual relationships among the members ended up in the departure of the artistic leader and double-base player Frantisek Hertl and the flutist Karel Hanzl. They were replaced by Miroslav Novotny and Hynek Kaslík. Between 1949 and 1951 the Czech Nonet premiered only one piece per year.
’He who knows the symphonic orchestra of our broadcasting corporation and its programme, who knows about its concerts in public, he knows it is not easy to be up to such work. It is rather no fun spending five or six hours in a room not ventilated properly, where the artificial light and special accoustics tire both the eyes and ears out. Well, the Nonet members do their nonet duty on top of all this, dedicating all their free time. Why do these people do it? In ensembles where contemporary music is done, they get a salary which is hardly enough to pay the electricity bill, ironing the tailcoat and washing the shirt, but not to buy sheet music…, in the concerts there is always the risk it does not pay out, while organizing the tours abroad they themselves have to arrange everything with the authorities and the salary is maybe high enough to cover the travel and accommodation expenses and minimum food. And whether they wish to go on a longer tour, the broadcasting corporation gives them holiday without any problem, but they are obliged to find a standby who they have to pay themselves. Not only they work in their nonet nearly for nothing and in their free time but, in fact, they have to pay for their own work to an institution who has the most money out of all ’music producers.’ (Karel Reiner, Kulturní politika, 1 November 1946, No. 7).
This is a rough description of the work situation the Czech Nonet was saddled with in the late 1940‘s. This led to a crisis in the early 1950’s that can be characterised as extreme fatigue which kept growing and kept striking the ensemble terribly.