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Rudolf Karel was son of a poor railway employee. He studied composition from 1899 to 1904 with Antonín Dvořák and organ with Josef Klička in Prague. In Prague, he took part in the resistance and in March 1943 was arrested. After being interned at Pankrác for two years (1943–1945) Karel was sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp (often used as a transit point to Auschwitz but used as the "model camp" where the arts were to some extent tolerated; a number of artists and composers, among the latter Pavel Haas, Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krása and Gideon Klein also arrived there), where after one month he died of dysentery.
It was in a cell at Terezín that he worked on his five-act fairy-tale opera Three Hairs of the Wise Old Man, composing it on toilet paper using pencil or medicinal charcoal. The 240 sheets containing a detailed sketch of the opera was secretly passed to a friendly warden. The orchestrations were completed after his death and from his notes by his pupil Zbynek Vostrak.
His several-times performed (and recorded) nonet (though left incomplete at his death) was composed (what there was of it) between January and February 1945. (It was premiered in an orchestration/completion by František Hertl for a premiere in December 1945.)
- 1910 Theme and variations op.13
- 1909 Islein's heart (Ilseino srdce)
- 1932 Gevatterin death op.30
- 1944 Opera: Three hairs of the all-knowing Greis (or, Three hairs of the wise old man)
- 1904/1911 Scherzo Capriccio op.6
- 1909 Sinfonie of ideals op.11
- 1914 Sinfonie for violin and orchestra op.20
- 1918/1920 Sinfonie Démon op.23
- 1921 Sinfonie Renaissance op.15
- 1938 spring info. never (?) op.38
- 1941 revolution overture. Op.39
- 1903 first string quartet in D minor op.3
- 1910 second string quartet in E♭ major op.12
- 1912 violin sonata in D minor op.17
- 1915 piano quartet op.22
- 1936 third string quartet op.37
- 1945 Nonet (incomplete) op.43
- Stanley Sadie (Ed.) The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians. 1980.
- Darryl Lyman: Great Jews in Music. Jonathan David Publishers, New York N.Y. 1986,
- Clarification: while Karel died of disease (like composer Ervin Schulhoff, also interned), in accounts of crimes against humanity of this magnitude this is also listed among murders (so this editor has been informed awhile back.)
- Karas, Joža (1985). Music in Terezín 1941-1945. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press. ISBN 9780918728340. p.191.
- CD notes: Suppaphon SU 3266-2 661
- Woolf, Jonathan (August 2001). "Review of a Supraphon recording of the Nonet, with works by other concentration camp internees (Klein, Lucky, Haas)". Retrieved June 19, 2012.
- "Earsense: Rudolf Karel". Retrieved June 20, 2012.
- at IMSLP.