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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – June 2010


Circumcision outfit of the composer Karel Reiner

The Czech composer, pianist and music journalist Karel Reiner was born in the town of Žatec (Saaz) in Bohemia on 27 June 1910. His father Josef Reiner (1872–1942) was the chief cantor of the local synagogue where his son Karel, in July 1910, underwent the circumcision ritual (usually performed eights days after a boy’s birth) that marks a Jewish boy’s covenant with God.
Karel Reiner received his first music lessons from his father, a singing graduate from the Vienna Conservatory, and developed his talents in Prague, where – in addition to studying law in 1928–33 – he devoted his time to private study under the direction of Alois Hába (music theory and composition, 1929–30) and Josef Suk (1930–31) at the Master School of Composition. He continued his education in Hába’s Department of Quarter-Tone Music at the Prague Conservatory (where he graduated in 1935, composing Fantasy for Quarter-Tone Piano) and by studying musicology at the Arts Faculty of Charles University (1934–35).
Before the war, Karel Reiner worked as a pianist and composer of stage music for E. F. Burian’s Theatre D 35–39 and as a solo and accompanying pianist at home and abroad. After the Nazi occupation, however, he had to give up all public appearances because he was of Jewish descent. For racial reasons, his name could not be printed in the 1939–40 publication Špalíček národních písní a říkadel (a collection of national songs and rhymes), which he cowrote with A. Hába and J. Seidl. After marrying the translator Hana Reinerová, his wartime experiences began when he was deported with his wife to Terezín in July 1943, from where he was sent to Auschwitz in 1944 and finally to Dachau. Both he and his wife, who went through Auschwitz, Freiberg and Mauthausen, survived the sufferings of the war.
After the war, Karel Reiner focused mainly on composition (282 large and small-scale works, mostly instrumental), piano performances, publication work and organizational activities, particularly at the Association of Czechoslovak Composers and at the Czech Music Foundation. He worked as a freelance composer from 1961 onwards and was appointed a merited artist in 1967. He died in Prague in 1979. His wife Hana donated his circumcision outfit to the Jewish Museum in Prague in 2004.


Circumcision outfit of the composer Karel Reiner
silk, lace, machine embroidery
Bohemia (Žatec), 1910
© JMP, inv. no. 178.057/01,02


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