Although Emil Axman was a musician of many professions, he eventually focused on his career as a composer. He studied composition with Vítězslav Novák, counterpoint with Otakar Ostrčil, and music theory with Karel Stecker.
Already during his grammar school and university studies he was an active member of several vocal groups and choirs (Moravan, Hlahol). From 1913 until his death he worked as a librarian and later the director of the National Museum Music Fund (the present-day Czech Museum of Music).
Axman was also a graduate musicologist (his doctoral thesis dealt with Moravian operas in the 18th century, 1912), having graduated from Charles University under the tutorage of Zdeněk Nejedlý and Otakar Hostinský. The latter also supported Axman’s efforts in the field of folk songs and dances that Axman collected, studied, and arranged – the Slovácko region and its folk music traditions were of particular interest to him.
In his music, Axman drew on the stylistic traditions of late Romanticism (V. Novák). Admittedly, in several of his chamber compositions he did try to make use of the incentives brought about by the European modernism of the early 20th century (Between 1920 and 1927 he worked as an agent for the Modern Music Association (Spolek pro moderní hudbu)). On the whole, however, he rejected the progressive style of atonal and athematic music. Having found the source of his expressive inspiration mainly in the tradition of the Czech composition school and Moravian folk music, he tried to further develop and enrich these sources in order to search for new ways of music expression in this field.
The influence of Moravian folk music is palpable also in his orchestral pieces for smaller orchestra, as can be clearly seen from the list of titles of these compositions: Moravian Dances (Moravské tance), Moravia Singing (Morava zpívá), A Wreath of Songs from Slovácko (Věnec písní ze Slovácka), and the like. Some of these were repeatedly recorded for broadcasting purposes of the Czech Radio (The suites From the Beskydy Mountains (Z Beskyd), and In the Summer (V létě).
His output has been highly esteemed mainly in the field of song cycles (The Rainbow (Duha, 1921), Nights (Noci, 1924), Psalms (Žalmy, 1928), At the Flame (U plamene, 1930)); choral music (From the War (Z vojny, 1916), Moonlit Nights (Měsíčné noci, 1920), The Voice of the Earth (Hlas země, 1926), The Night (Noc, 1932)); and cantatas (My Mother (Moje matka, 1926), The Ballad of the Fire Tender’s Eyes (Balada o očích topičových, 1928), Ilonka Beniačová, 1930, The Sobotka Cemetery (Sobotecký hřbitov, 1934), Stabat Mater, 1939). The lyrics for these compositions were taken from folk poetry, religious texts, as well as from the poetry of Czech poets of the 19th and 20th century (Mácha, Čelakovský, Wolker, etc.). Axman’s symphonic (6 symphonies) and chamber music remains largely unnoticed.
Titles for hire - see Complete catalogue