Singer and violinist Iva Bittová is one of the few artists from the Czech Republic to enjoy an international career. Her irresistible charm, original use of voice, and fondness of melodies that sit on the border of avant-garde and playground nursery rhymes won her devoted fans around the world, although the core of her audience resides in Eastern Europe.
Iva Bittová was born July 7, 1958, in Bruntal, Moravia (Czech Republic). The second of three daughters, she grew up in a musical environment. Her father, Koloman Bitto, played guitar, trumpet, and double bass in folk and classical ensembles. Her mother, Ludmila Bittová, a trained teacher, spent her life singing in professional vocal ensembles. During Iva's childhood, the family traveled a lot between towns as her father changed jobs frequently. She took ballet and violin lessons, and performed children's parts on-stage. The family eventually settled in Brno, and there she concentrated her interests on theater, completing her drama studies in college. For the next ten years she worked as an actress, appearing on television and in a handful of Czech feature films, including Jaromil Jires' Ostrov Stribrnych Volavek ("The Island of Silver Herons") and Zápisník Zmizeleho ("Diary of a Lost Soul").
In the early '80s, Bittová renewed her interest in the violin. She began lessons with Rudolf Stastny and started to develop her unique vocal techniques, made of whispers, grunts, and moans, along with a playful, almost giddy tone. Her first musical partner was drummer Pavel Fajt (Dunaj, later with Pluto, the Danubians) with whom she recorded her first record, Bittová & Fajt, in 1985. She also released a few solo EPs and recorded with Dunaj during these first years (her tenure with this influential avant-rock group would last from 1985 to 1988). Her second LP with Fajt, Svatba ("The Wedding"), was picked up for international distribution by Review Records. That's how it came to the attention of ex-Henry Cow member Chris Cutler, and eventually to Fred Frith. The seminal avant-garde guitarist featured the duo in the 1989 film and soundtrack Step Across the Border, giving them international exposure and spawning a tour outside of Eastern Europe.
Bittová's first full-length solo album came out in 1991 on Pavian, followed the next year by River of Milk, her first U.S. release. During the mid-'90s she worked mainly as a solo artist, recording two more albums for BMG; she concluded her association with Fajt and Dunaj on the 1995 Pustit Musís, and made her first foray into classical music with a series of concerts and a CD of Béla Bartók's violin duets (with Dorothea Kellerová).
In 1997, Bittová teamed up with Rale guitarist Vladimír Václavek to record the beautiful Bílé Inferno (on Indies). This and the 1998 eponymous solo CD released on Nonesuch revived her international career. She and Václavek stormed the festivals of Europe. In 1998 she and violinist Dorothea Kellerová recorded Béla Bartók: 44 Duo for Two Violins.
Bittová began her association with ECM Records in 2006 with the release of Mater, a collection of songs by Slovakian composer Vladimír Godár. In 2007 she sang and played violin on bassist George Mraz's Moravian Gems. In 2012, she and the Prague Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra recorded a retrospective album of her compositions entitled Zvon ("Bell"), which was issued in the Czech Republic. The album included appearances by several collaborators from her past including guitarists David and Vladimir Václavek. In 2013, Bittová's self-titled album was released by ECM. She also recorded 2014's Entwine/Proplétám entirely solo for the Czech Republic's Pavian label; it was released in the West on Supraphon. That same year, Pavian issued the self-titled collaboration from Czech free jazz collective Nocz & Iva Bittová. In 2015, Eviyan, Bittova's collaboration with Gyan Riley (guitarist/composer and son of composer Terry Riley) and clarinetist/composer Evan Ziporyn was issued by Animal Records. In 2017, she reunited with the Čikori quartet to issue their first collaboration in 15 years entitled At Home; the year also saw the digital-only recording New Cicada Trio: Live in Beacon released. The group features Bittova with her longtime collaborators Timothy Hill and David Rothenberg. ~ Francois Couture