In 1946, Lébl began studies at the Medical Faculty of Charles University in Prague. He played the piano in student bar groups and in the 1948/49 season he was a pianist in the Prague Theatre of Satire [Divadlo satiry]. In 1949, after six terms, he abandoned medicine and changed over to the Philosophical Faculty to study musicology and ethnography. He graduated in 1953 with a dissertation entitled Five Chapters about Leoš Janáček.
Lébl was involved in the setting-up of the so-called Electronic Committee at the Union of Composers, which, in collaboration with the Pilsen Studio of Czechoslovak Radio and the Radio and Television Research Institute in Prague, acquired and provided the necessary technical equipment for the Experimental Studio of Czech Radio Pilsen (*1967). Together with Miloslav Kabeláč and Eduard Herzog, Lébl organised national thematic conferences on New Music in 1964 and 1965 and an international seminar in 1967, with participation of Pierre Schaeffer and some of his colleagues. In 1965 the composers Rudolf Komorous, Marek Kopelent, Vladimír Šrámek, Zbyněk Vostřák and the theoreticians Josef Bek and Eduard Herzog founded an association called the Prague New Music Group [Pražská skupina Nové hudby]; Lébl was their programme spokesman. He maintained lively contact with the Brno composers Miloš Štědroň and Alois Piňos and with the group that formed around them, and he became a close personal friend of the Brno composer Josef Berg.
In 1957 the Soviet communist ideologues, soon followed by their Czechoslovak equivalents, decided to acknowledge the legitimacy of cybernetics as a scientific field and allow scientists on their side of the iron curtain to pursue the subject. The first enthusiastic laymen outside the mathematical world, including Lébl, saw in cybernetics the way to understand and formalise the activity of the human brain. They believed that knowledge of how thought-processes work would enable development of all intellectual functions further. Not just aesthetic creation, but the perception of that creation would be improved: communication between composer and listener would be brought to a new high point. Lébl was convinced (if only for a time) that it was just a matter of time before contemporary music would find its place alongside the contemporary literature, drama and film that was discovering a source of inspiration and new expressive possibilities in modern technology.
His first text on electronic music came out in the magazine Hudební rozhledy in 1958 in an obscure context. Unlike Literární noviny, where the editors were already clearly signalling a more liberal line, at Hudební rozhledy a hard line was maintained and the political leaders in every issue interpreted resolutions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia on the desirable direction to be taken by the arts. Even here, however, there were increasingly gleams of other themes. The leader in Number 11, in which support was expressed for the “struggle of the Chinese people with Chang Kai Chek”, was followed by Lébl’s text On the Music of the Future and the Future of Music. He posed the question of what music would be like in 300 years time, what contemporary technical composition techniques would be like and the direction that might be taken in the immediate future by electronic music, musique concréte and music for tape. The lengthy article was solidly based on several German works and was definitely not naive.
Lébl’s systematic interest in technical music then emerged in successive articles focusing on all kinds of aspects of the theme: the objective acoustic and compositional attributes of music created from technical sources, the way in which it was subjectively perceived, problems in its notation and the issue of whether it could be written down at all. In 1966 Lébl then tackled the historical aspect of the theme in a separate publication Elektronická hudba [Electronic Music] which offered the Czech reader an account of the short history of this kind of music and described the centres where it was cultivated. He went on to deal with more general questions: What is the relationship between the composer and interpreter of technical music? What exactly is a work, when its composition no longer has the basic features of pieces written in previous centuries? What new processes, customs and rituals has the New Music brought to concert life? In the collection Podoby [Forms] II, published by Václav Havel and comprising texts by authors from the Tvář magazine circle, Lébl contributed an article on this theme with the title Metamusic, which contained “partly real facts about the musical present, partly a hypothesis and partly a Utopia”, and reflected on the crossroads at which contemporary music had arrived. Another of Lébl’s articles, called On Boundary Kinds of Music from the collection Nové cesty hudby [New Paths for Music] (1970) was concerned with already existing forms created on the boundary between music and the word, music and fine art and music and theatre. (Source)
(in Czech unless noted otherwise)
- Elektronická hudba, Prague: Státní hudební vydavatelství, 1966.
- "Brno Experimenting", Hudební rozhledy 5, Prague, 1970.
- "Brno in Sixties", Opus musicum 6, Brno, 1990.
- "Czech Musica Nova: Historical Background and Sociology of the Phenomenon", Czech Music 2 (Apr 2005). 1983 lecture. (English)