Cermakova, Josefina (Kounicova) (1849 - 1895)

Actress at the Provisional Theatre, daughter of goldsmith Jan Jiri Cermak and Klotilda Cermakova, later Dvorak’s sister-in-law. She gave her debut on the Provisional stage at a mere fifteen years of age and, after an enthusiastic response from the audience, was immediately accepted into the company. She excelled particularly performing roles of young naive lovers in the French comic repertoire. She later worked in the theatre in Weimar. In 1877 she married the eminent politician, Count Vaclav Kounic, and gave up her stage career. She came to know Dvorak when they were working together in the theatre, and also when Dvorak earned extra income teaching the piano at the Cermak family home. Dvorak fell in love with Josefina, but she did not return his affections and Dvorak was then inspired to write the song cycle Cypresses (a musical setting of the poetry collection by Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky in which he found an expression of his state of mind as a lovelorn young man). As if unconsciously following in the footsteps of Mozart and Haydn, Dvorak finally married Josefina’s sister Anna. However, the composer remained in contact with Josefina and Vaclav Kounic his whole life. They invited him to their home in Vysoka near Pribram, a village which enchanted him so much that it became his second home from then on.

Josefina Kounicova is also associated with the composition of one of Dvorak’s most famous works, the Cello Concerto in B minor; Josefina was dying at the time he was writing the work. In an act of remembrance Dvorak inserted into the concerto a quotation of Josefina’s favourite song, “Leave Me Alone” (“Kez duch muj sam”) from the cycle Four Songs, Op. 82.