What comes to your mind when I say `Czech Music´? Only one thing! Come on, try to think harder. Any famous rock band? Maybe a melody? Nothing? Exactly. We could not come up with anything when we asked ourselves that question, and neither did the other ten people we interviewed around the Old Town Square in the middle of Prague. However, these were mostly foreigners like us, we must admit; and we did find three or four individuals, Czechs, who were able to tell us a bit more about this unheard-of mystery. Deafened by the constant Americanisedtunes everywhere, it is easy to forget that there was a previous rich culture, more unique to each country, that evolved as the region´s history did too. As for the Czech Republic, a golden city of art in every form, it could not be otherwise. If W.A. Mozart was so fond of its intellectual atmosphere, maybe there is something worth listening to apart from the top 100 hit list.

Postcards with images related to popular and traditional Czech music in a shop in the city centre.

The traditional popular Czech music emanated from its people. A melodious ensemble of various instruments characteristic of the region – steirische harmonika, tambourine, bladder pipe… – represent this folkloric music from the mixture of gypsies and bohemians, pagans and Christians.Together with its counterpart dance, it creates a heritage that can be reached when indagatingabout the origins of this country´s cultural belongings. The Protestant Church soon began to take the ownership of events involving ritual music and a long custom of spiritual songs and rituals started to get shaped. Newly born songwriters in time of Charles IV started gaining a name throughout Europe.

…Mozart himself could not ignore the value of the enlightening atmosphere that was being created in Prague…

However, the “golden age” of Czech music resides in the budding capital with the Baroque. Jan Dismas Zelenka is just one name worth of mention when talking about the majestic flowering of opera, which conquered rename among the European nobility. Concerts, aristocratic orchestras and philharmonics were all on the agenda. Considered by most the greatest classical composer of all times, Mozart himself could not ignore the value of the enlightening atmosphere that was being created in Prague, and felt immensely attracted by it. Subsequently, he enriched its status by conducting the premièreof Don Giovanni in 1787 in the Estates theatre, on its billboard since then. Opening nights were a tremendous success, the city adored his music, and the obsession with such worksignificantly influenced the following decades.After the halt of meaningful production, comes the second half of the 19th century and two great names: Smetana and Dvorak.

Next in line comes the 20th century and a boost of music interest with the new technologies: gramophones, recording studios, and the foundation of Prague´s Conservatory. Furthermore, with the end of World War One and the disintegration of the Austrio-Hungarian empire, the new nation of Czechoslovakia decided to get rid of the Catholicism that the emperor had supposedly enforced on them, disappearing, therefore, all the music and rituals connected with it. Churches, magnificent and luxurious buildings of golden value, stopped being used as such. After surviving WWII, these constructions are used nowadays to host classical concerts of philharmonics, choruses and musicians from all over the world.

While World War Two enhanced the classical works as tools of great symbolic significance towards victory and peace, the implantation of the Communist regime strictly silenced any suspicious melody. Institutions were prematurely retired unless they served the scrupulous likes of the regime. Only jazz was a safe zone for bars and cafés, and Karel Gott and Helena Vondrácková were successful in maintaining some traditional pop with a generous production of singles and albums in the decades from 1960. When the seventies and eighties arrived, however, things started to change out of record. People were less sheep to the monotonous legal beat and the first rock and roll groups were less keen on staying in the shade. As an example of this, take “The Plastic People of the Universe”, a Czech rock and roll band whose components were imprisoned in the late seventies for not compromising their music to the red propaganda. Citizens even dared to give birth to the Lennon Wall, one of Prague´s most astonishing sightseeing points full of history, where they gave letters to their thoughts and feelings with lyrics from `The Beatles´.As 1989 got closer, a wider range of “unethical” music found its way to the people and was an essential tool of unity in the triumph of the Velvet Revolution, when, suddenly, the country, as many others, found to the reach of its hands the rest of the capitalist world and its “freedom”, fire gunned by the 1990´s Rolling Stone concert in the capital.

To sum up, it is undeniable that any of Ed Sheeran´s singles will have millions and millions more views in You Tube than the mix of the production of this region for the last centuries. I mean, maybe someday a group of friends on their forties come up with a Czech version like “Despacito” that colonises the world within a summer. However, our recommendation is to accept that Czech music is not of international influence right now.There are new bands and songs produced by this country every year following the new trends, and there´s the undeniable importance of classical operas, so we are not taking them the relevance they deserve. Just try to go out of your Bieber-comfort-zone every once in a while, and try to search “Czech music” on Spotify. Maybe you´ll be surprised. Maybe not. But otherwise you´ll never know.

Picture from the Communism Museum in Prague. Image from the first Rock and Roll Festival in Lucerna, 1967.


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