UK musicologist: “My parents were horrified when I went to Czechoslovakia, they thought I was a spy”

Although now in his 80s, Geoffrey Chew is still writing about Czech music. The British/South African musicologist devoted most of his career to the music of the Czech Lands and Slovakia as Emeritus Professor of Music at Royal Holloway University in London and as editor of articles on Czech and Slovak Music for the online Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. He has also translated Czech literature, including a translation of Karel Hynek Mácha’s ‘Cikáni’ (Gypsies) which was published in 2019. For his contributions to Czech music and culture, Chew was awarded a Leoš Janáček Memorial Medal by the Leoš Janáček Foundation in 2018.

Born in South Africa, Chew has spent most of his life in the UK and when I meet with him at the Southbank Centre in London, he calls himself a “citizen of nowhere”, wryly referencing the former UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s notorious comment at the 2016 UK Conservative party conference that “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere” (he adds that “if that’s what Theresa May wants to call us then fine – I’ll go along with that”). But, despite an academic career focused on Czech music, Chew has no Czech heritage or familial relations whatsoever.

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Author: Anna Fodor