A cheerful kick that liked to go to the company, as well as a punctilious woman who suffered from perfectly polished shoes with her band members. This is how pianist Petr Malásek remembers the deceased singer Hana Hegerová. He met the chansonnier with a unique old-world nobility and felt expression at a time when she was already one of the musical icons. But they quickly fell in love, so he accompanied her until the end of her career.
You played with Hana Hegerová for over 20 years, until she ended her music career in 2011. How did you meet?
When I was about 25 years old, I played in the Dance Orchestra of Czechoslovak Radio and Hana Hegerová performed with us at a concert. That was when we first saw each other, and just after the Velvet Revolution, in 1990, based on this experience, I was probably asked if I would stop at two of her concerts abroad. One took place in Bonn, the other in Munich.
I was in the war at the same time, so I had to get a dropout and I went to Germany all the way out. Learning the whole recital with such a legend was of course a little nervous, but I think I finally succeeded, because we stayed together until Hana Hegerová decided to stop singing.
Did Hana Hegerová take you from the beginning as an equal partner, even though you were a young ear opposite her?
Yes, during concerts with Hana Hegerová, the musician never felt that she was a star and he was just an accompaniment. She always took me as an important partner and we were both well aware of how dependent we were on each other. Without exaggeration, I can say that I spent the most beautiful years of my musician life with her.
The lyricist Michal Horáček revealed that Hegerová told him several times that she did not feel talented at all. She must have been a great perfectionist when she doubted her talent so much, despite all the successes.
Yes, she was very strict with herself. When she rehearsed before the concert, she played almost all the songs. She usually came to the theater four hours before the start, sat down at the piano and sang. She eventually became so familiar with the space in which she was to perform that she no longer had to concentrate on where to connect during the concert. She got used to the lights and the stage, so then she could only focus on the magic of working with the audience and with music that I don’t think anyone controlled like her.
Listening to you like that, wasn’t it a great pressure for you as a pianist not to ruin Heger’s concert?
Paradoxically, no. All her concerts were characterized by a semi-improvised, sometimes even jazz atmosphere, so one didn’t even think that something could go wrong during them. Rather, he tried to elevate the songs with something else, to incorporate something original into them, which would surprise his teammates and Mrs. Heger. She enjoyed this approach incredibly, she liked to let us musicians get us out of the original concept and she was happy to be able to react to our musical ideas.
You told Czech Radio that Hana Hegerová had changed your view of the world. What made your meeting so fatal?
The first years of our concert together I went with her mainly abroad. Mrs. Heger was incredibly popular in German-speaking countries, and I learned from her how it goes. I penetrated the great world of music, which was an extremely important school for me. I learned things that I still enjoy as an accompanying pianist. I learned how to make contact with the soloist, how to compose dramaturgy during a concert, but also how to always have carefully cleaned shoes on the stage. Hana Hegerová suffered a lot for that.
The listeners remembered Heger as a singer with an incredibly sensitive, perhaps even theatrical performance. How was she human?
Hana Hegerová was an incredibly cheerful man who loved company and humor. She always wondered if any of the musicians had heard a good joke. After each concert, she went to a company with her whole team, not only with the band, but also with the technicians, and experienced the meetings as intensely as the concerts. When she stopped singing, she met her former teammates at least at parties and she could see how happy she was.
Can you think of an incident that would nicely capture her personality?
One strikes me. We once organized a concert for Petr Neužil, the cardiac surgeon who took care of her, and they became friends. In the end, Hana Hegerová could not attend due to health reasons, so she sent Petr Neužil at least a greeting recorded on her mobile phone. She made the video as if she were having a dialogue with me, sensed exactly what I was going to say about each of her sentences, and finally said, “You know what, Peter? We’re singing to the doctor.”
So I sat down at the piano, accompanied her songs recorded on video, and it all seemed like we were touring online. At the same time, it was all pre-recorded. In my opinion, this beautifully describes how well she knew the psychology of her musicians and how she mastered the stage magic that I had already talked about.
Could you express how Heger gained the audience?
Her charm, I think, lay in complete authenticity. Everything she sang was true. She played nothing. She experienced each song deeply, which is something that the listener always knows one hundred percent and cannot be deceived.
Which of her songs did you like to play the most?
My favorite was the songs that, as a musician, I could always take a little differently, which were her rock hits like My Love or Cursed Love.
In your opinion, are singers still born today with a similar chansonnier feeling, like Hana Hegerová had?
In my opinion, talented musicians are still born, I see a lot of singers who can touch, cry and laugh. But such a personality as Hana Hegerová was only one and a big hole will remain here after her.
What is the last memory you have of her?
We didn’t have time to see each other anymore, but at least we heard each other. It was last Christmas, at the time of the lockdown. The phone rang and Mrs. Heger at the other end. I was very happy because I wanted to call her myself and wish her a happy holiday. She said to me, “Peter, I just poured myself a pine tree, so I remembered you. How are you?” It was still the same as before, and I remembered all the years we had been together.
You might be interested in: The film beginnings of Hana Hegerová
The film beginnings of Hana Hegerová: the year 1957 and the role of Zuzana in the film There at the Final. | Video: Filmexport