Wednesday, 28 July 2010


'Praise the Lord, we are a musical nation' says the Revd. Eli Jenkins in Dylan Thomas's portrait of Welsh village life, Under Milk Wood.  The same could easily be said of the Czech lands, whose history can be mapped out in their wealth of composers and performers.

Czech baroque music is not as well known as it should be, but readers may like to jot down the names of Michna, Hollan (known, after his birthplace, as Rovenský), Tůma and Zelenka, all of whom took liturgical music to unimaginably expressive heights. Mozart said that Prague of all cities appreciated his music best - and several of his most celebrated works had their premieres here, including Don Giovanni.

Later the music of Dvořák and Smetana became identified with the period of the patriotic fervour known as the Czech National Revival; and the year after the latter's death, the great concert hall the Rudolfinum - home to the Czech Philharmonic - was constructed, with Dvořák at the podium.

But this is essentially a country where ordinary people have always made the music, whether in the church congregation or at work in the fields. Leoš Janáček famously incorporated Czech-Moravian folk songs into his works, a tradition proudly upheld today by musicians such as acclaimed jazz pianist Emil Viklický. It's no surprise, either, to learn that jazz was for many Czechs the call-to-arms of the Velvet Revolution.

This busker, crouched in the corner of the cathedral of St Peter and Paul at Vyšehrad, seems to me to best represent the deeply musical consciousness of a people who live in a country which the English music historian Charles Burney called the 'conservatoire of Europe'.


Luis Gomez said...

I like this image very much!

Jilly said...

He is so involved in his playing - love the photo. Beautiful old walls and paving really show old and new. I'm learning so much about Prague through your excellent blog, Alex. Who knew that Don Giovanni was premiered here. I love that you liken the musical sensibilities of the Czech people to those of the Welsh and also that you mention Dylan Thomas - one of my favourite poets.

Alex Went said...

Thanks Jilly, for your kind words. Do try to get hold of some Zelenka - or listen to Rovensky's exquisite 'Maria pole vznesené'. You can hear an extract here

Alex Went said...

I've put a link in the article now under Zelenka, which will take you to the best page on his works

Jilly said...

Alex, I've just come back and found the link. Oh my goodness, his voice is absolutely beautiful!

Alex Went said...

Yes, that recording is very fine, I think :)

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