Music of the Czech Lands
Music of the Czech Lands comprises the musical traditions of Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia. Music in the Czech Republic has its roots in more than 1,000 year old sacred music. The oldest recorded song from Czech lands is the hymn Lord, Have Mercy on Us, dating from the turn of 10/11th century.
Traditional and classical
The traditional music of Bohemia and Moravia has been well documented and influenced the work of composers like Leoš Janáček, Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, and Bohuslav Martinů. Janáček made his recordings at an auspicious time. The 1880s saw the decline of traditional music; however, Janáček brought a Moravian string band to the 1895 Ethnographical Exhibition in Prague, which led to increased feelings of national pride and identity, and a resurgence in traditional music.
The most famous classical music pieces from Czech Republic include The New World Symphony from Dvořák, Má vlast from Smetana and Sinfonietta from Janáček. Some pieces of classical music have actually been made more famous than the composer himself, for example Entry of the Gladiators by Julius Fučík, better known just as the circus music. Through the centuries, Czech composers were usually heavily influenced by traditional music from their country, which can be seen especially when listening to Smetana. Although the most popular classical music from Czech Republic comes from the Romantic era, Classical and Baroque composers should not be overlooked. These composers include Adam Michna, Heinrich Biber, Jan Dismas Zelenka, Johann Wenzel Stamitz and Johann Ladislaus Dussek.
Undoubtedly the most internationally famous dance is Bohemian polka. Polka is a dance in duple time that became popular across Europe in the 19th century and spread across the world, influencing music from Mexico to Japan. Perhaps the most famous example is Škoda lásky ("Wasted Love") from 1927, world-known under the name Beer Barrel Polka. Czechs had a highly influential role in the development of Mexican cultural music. In the 1800s immigrants from Moravia were settling in the gulf coast area of Texas; many of them brought along polkas and waltzes which began to become popular with the Mexican people who lived among them. Love for these styles by the Mexican people later developed into Norteño and Tejano.
Bohemian traditional music is most innovative in Chodsko, where bagpipes are common. Moravian traditional music is best known for the cimbalom, which is played in ensembles that also include double bass, clarinet and violins. The traditional music of the regions of Moravia displays foreign influences, especially in Valachia which is tinged by Romanian and Ukrainian legacy and has close cultural relations with Slovakia and Lachia (the borderland of northern Moravia and Czech Silesia) with its Polish aspects.
Prague was well known for its pub songs called Staropražské písničky ("Old Prague Songs"), which are influenced by Viennese schrammelmusik and other forms. These songs are still played by bands like Šlapeto. A more modernized urban music is called tramp music (trampská hudba). Tramp music has been popular since its invention as part of the Czech tramping movement that began when early 20th-century city-dwellers began seeking physical and imaginative respite from the pressures of urban life.
Bohemian Forest music
Music in the Bohemian Forest has existed for many centuries. Long ago, music was linked with many different activities people used to do there. Since the Middle Ages, people would sing during services, so it has been especially the Bohemian Forest’s church places where music was practiced. The first music memories found in this area come from the Cistercian monastery in Vyšší Brod (founded in 1259). Documents proving the creating of music in this area were found in its significant library. One of the most important documents is manuscript No. 42, from 1410. Here we can find a hymn called Jezu Kriste, ščedrý kněže ("Jesus Christ Bountiful Prince"), that people would sing during the preaching of the famous John Huss.
Since the development of towns in the 15th century, music started to play an important role in two of the Bohemian Forest’s centers: Prachatice and Sušice. From this region we know a man called Václav z Prachatic (Václav of Prachatice), who dealt with the theory of music at the Charles University in Prague. His manuscript called Musica magistrii Johannis de Muris accurtata de musica Boethii can be found in the university library. This manuscript is a collective work on the theory of music and it is inspired by the thoughts of Johan de Muris, who worked in Paris.
Extensive musical activities in Prachatice took place in the second half of the 16th century, the century of the Renaissance. There was a significant bloom of temple’s music in the temple of St. James. As a new form of music books are the hymn books. The most famous musical period in Prachatice was the period of literátská bratrstva ("men of letters brotherhoods"). Their main focus was community singing and they would perform it during ceremonial services. The brotherhood had its memorial book established in 1575, which described its activities until 1949, when the brotherhood perished. The Habsburg Counter-Reformation in Bohemia after 1620 affected the Bohemian Forest as well. Catholic priests used to performed Gregorian chorals, but people used to sing spiritual songs, often based on the Protestant tradition. This ended in a new catholic edition of hymn books such as Capella regia musicallis and others.
The Czech classicism period is also available in Prachatice. There can be found works by František Xaver Brixi, Johann Baptist Wanhal, Augustin Šenkýř. Among the 18th and 19th century authors are Vincenc Mašek, Jan Jakub Ryba, Jan August Vitásek. In the 19th century a German and Austrian production also had its place here. The Czech work dominated in Sušice and Kašperské Hory. In the 19th century, a period of romanticism, the Bohemian Forest got a new format regarding Czech music. The founder of the Czech national music Bedřich Smetana was inspired by the Bohemian Forest while creating his symphonic poem Vltava. Antonín Dvořák was also inspired by the Bohemian Forest in his piece called Klid pro violoncello a orchestr.
Early music groups
Ars Rediviva was the first Czech chamber ensemble that specialized systematically in performance of Baroque music respecting historically informed practice. It was established in 1951 by flutist and musical scientist Milan Munclinger.
English-speaking visitors listening to Czech radio may be surprised at the prevalence of familiar tunes, but with lyrics sung in Czech. These imported pop standards aside, rock and roll has taken over, often with influences and instrumentations taken from more traditional Czech styles.
The 1960s saw American bluegrass music gain wide popularity, and the first European festival was held in 1972 (the Annual Banjo Jamboree in Kopidlno). In 1964 and 1982, Pete Seeger toured the country, inspiring generations of Czech bluegrass and American-style folk musicians. One notable example is the band Poutníci, whose early success helped perpetuate bluegrass music in the Czech Republic. Many former members of Poutníci have recorded or toured with the band Druhá Tráva, which has brought Czech bluegrass to the modern world music stage.
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