The music composer Ján Cikker, one of the most important representatives of Slovak music history, was born on July 29th 1911 in Banská Bystrica. His father, one of the Zikker descendants living in Vienna, became a professor at the Grammar School in Banská Bystrica after finishing his studies at the Faculty of Arts. He married Mária Psotková – the first Slav and Slovak in the Zikker family. At birth, the young Ján’s surname was written down in the register phonetically as Cikker. When Ján Cikker was three years old, the war broke out. His father joined up and in 1915 fell near Halič. Care of the household and of their son was left on the shoulders of Cikker’s mother. Mária Cikkerová played the piano well, sang nicely and so turned her hobby into a profession; she became a piano and singing teacher.
Ján Cikker’s mother began to guide him professionally towards music when he was eight. Up to then he had played his own ideas and made a start on his first children’s compositions. Under his mother’s tuition, he was able to perform successfully in front of an audience a composition by E.H. Grieg within one year. In Banská Bystrica, he began to be talked about as a prodigy. For his twelfth birthday, he received a significant present from his mother: she took him to the Opera in Budapest. The first opera he saw on a large opera stage was Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The music literally enthralled Ján Cikker. When he was fifteen, his mother came to the conclusion that she had nothing left to teach him and entrusted his guidance to the hands of professor Kmoníčková. After finishing his studies at the classic Grammar School, Ján Cikker decided to join the State Conservatory in Prague. From the autumn of 1930, he attended professor Wiedermann’s organ class, Jaroslav Křička’s composition lessons and studied the piano with professor Ružena Kurzová and singing with professor Kadeřábek. At that time, Prague was a podium for the world’s artists. It was also the town of V.Novák, J.Suk, O.Ostrčil, J.B.Foerster. For Cikker, it was one great miracle and he fell in love with it for the whole of his life.
In June 1935, he completed his studies at the conservatory and enrolled at the master school of composition: he became a pupil of Vítězslav Novák. He also continued in his study of conducting. Vítězslav Novák addressed the words “you need no more from me” to Cikker at the end of his first year of study. Ján Cikker left Prague with a head full of knowledge and a heart overflowing with gratitude and memories. The time of discovery, however, was not over for Ján Cikker. A Slovak land grant opened the way for him to Vienna, to the famous conductor Felix von Weingarten, who took on Ján Cikker as an exceptional student. After a Slavonic Prague, he was surrounded by German culture. Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Strauss. Franz Schubert gained his heart. The Czechoslovak embassy arranged for Ján Cikker to have access to the original scores in the State Library. This privilege provided him with exceptional experiences and an unexpected encounter with Arturo Toscanini. In 1937, the young composer’s stay in Vienna came to an end, and a few months later, Hitler’s power annexed Austria to Germany. Cikker was 26 years old and still had military service before him, which continued as active service on the border. He returned on September 1st 1939. The Bratislava Music and Drama Academy took an interest in him; Ján Cikker accepted their offer and became a member of its teaching staff. All his experiences, stored away in his memory, burned him up inside. Thoughts did painful battle with feelings; they were remodelled as musical notions and his whole being longed to create. The war moved him to write the cantata Cantus filiorum and the trilogy of symphonic poems On life, Concertino for Piano.
Ján Cikker lived and worked in Bratislava, but his home remained Banská Bystrica. His mother was there, and he spent his free time and holidays there. He was there when the events of August 1944 took place, when part of the Slovak nation made a stand against violence. It was not until the end of the Second World War, in the spring of 1945, that Ján Cikker was able to continue in what he chose as his profession and vocation. He returned to Bratislava and to his teaching and composition work. A great appetite to catch up on everything that the war years had stolen, stirred up in him the music of youth and joy.
He also enriched his composition activities with literary activities; he wrote much about music, guided by his function as dramatic adviser, which he held for a certain time in the opera section of the Slovak National Theatre. In 1950 – on his birthday – he married Katarína Fiedlerová – Jurecká, who stood loyally by his side for the rest of her life, gave him a home base and helped him in representative cultural and social engagements at home and abroad. In 1951, when Ján Cikker was forty, he became professor of composition at the University of Musical Art. From then on, he educated future composers, passed on his knowledge and experience and left them the legacy of great teachers to their musical youth.
Cikker’s work contains almost all genres. His main line was opera, for which the composer (with the exception of the first two) also wrote the libretto. . Juro Jánošík, Beg Bajazid, Mister Scrooge, Resurrection, Play on love and death, Coriolanus, Judgement, Siege of Bystrica, From the life of an insect, unfinished Antigone… From among his opera work, the following are notable: Tatra streams for the piano, Dramatic Fantasy, Meditation on the theme of a moteto by H.Schütza, Ode to Joy with the verse by M. Rúfus. His vocal work is also represented by numerous choir compositions and song cycles.
Ján Cikker holds the highest artistic, state and international awards. For his humanism and high ethical principles, Vienna University awarded him the G. von Herder prize. As well as the title of “national artist”, he was also awarded the UNESCO prize for music. The meaning of Ján Cikker’s whole life was composing, by means of which he gained an honorary place in the context of European musical life. He died on December 21st 1989 in Bratislava at the age of 78.