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Opera and Ideology in Prague

Opera and Ideology in Prague: Polemics and Practice at the National Theater, 1900-1938

Volume: 39
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 458
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    Opera and Ideology in Prague
    Book Description:

    This study presents a history and analysis of the Prague musical community from 1900 until the end of democracy in 1938. Opera and Ideology in Prague not only narrates the fascinating history of a local musical community but also reveals much about music and culture in Europe. The fin-de-siècle period was dominated by the musicologist Zdenek Nejedly's polemics regarding the competing "legacies" of Smetana and Dvorák and the merits of modernism. After Czech independence in 1918, a new generation of musicians accepted modernist foreign influences only with extreme hesitation. The 1926 Prague premiere of Berg's opera Wozzeck and the ascendancy of a young group of avant-garde composers changed the cultural climate entirely, providing new ground for the exploration of jazz, neo-classicism, quarter tones, and socialist music. As the Czechoslovak Republic drew to a close, a resurgence of nationalism appeared in the musical expressions of both Czechs and German-Bohemians. The analyses of operas and tone poems by Novák, Ostrcil, Zich, Jeremiás, Hába, Kricka, and Suk provide a cross-section of musical life in early twentieth-century Prague, as well as a series of interpretations of Czech cultural identity. Populist endeavors such as jazz and neo-classicism represented some of the ways in which composers of the 1930s attempted to regain an audience alienated by modernism: in this respect, the trends in Prague mirrored those of the rest of Europe. Brian Locke is assistant professor of music history at Western Illinois University, Macomb. He has written extensively on twentieth-century music, including Czech operatic and symphonic works and Alban Berg's Wozzeck.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-666-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Notes to the Reader
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  7. Timeline of Modern Czech History
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  8. Chapter One Introduction: Nationalism, Modernism, and the Social Responsibility of Art in Prague
    (pp. 1-13)

    Throughout the early twentieth century, the musical community of Prague was the site of intense artistic creativity and aesthetic debates that both reflected and helped shape the cultural life of Czechoslovakia at the time. As Europe entered the twentieth century, profound social changes affected the course of its history, in the realms of politics, culture, and both collective and personal identity. These changes were greatly influenced by ideologies, some held over from the nineteenth century, others transformed by the new era. In the artistic sphere, the new possibilities of cultural interaction forced a confrontation between traditional aesthetic views and the...

  9. Chapter Two Smetana, Hostinský, and the Aesthetic Debates of the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 14-35)

    In order to gain a full understanding of music in Prague after 1900, it is necessary first to explore the aesthetics of music during the nineteenth-century Cultural Revival, and the roles of Smetana and Hostinský in it. In many surveys of music history, it is often assumed that music in the Czech Lands began with Smetana, the so-called “Founder/Father of Czech music,” or more specifically with his return to Prague in 1862 after several years abroad.¹ While this rhetoric certainly plays into nationalist narratives that have held sway since the late nineteenth century, it is impossible to deny the rapid...

  10. Chapter Three Legacies, Ideologies, and Responsibilities: The Polemics of the Pre-Independence Years (1900–1918)
    (pp. 36-64)

    The date 1900 is not widely held to be a significant point of division in the musical history of Prague. The previous decade had witnessed a spectacular flowering of compositional activity, including Dvořák’s “American” period, Fibich’s late operas, and the first publications and performances of the new generation of Novák, Nedbal, and Suk. Between 1890 and 1910, much of the musical life of the city had continued on course since the opening of the National Theater in 1883, with the addition of a new German opera house in 1886, chamber concerts at the Conservatory, orchestral concerts with the Czech Philharmonic...

  11. Chapter Four “Archetypes Who Live, Rejoice, and Suffer”: Czech Opera in the Fin de Siècle
    (pp. 65-109)

    The ideological debates discussed in chapter 3 reveal much of the vibrancy of the Prague musical community in the pre-independence era, and a discussion of the actual musical production of the day—concert life, musical styles, and the composers themselves—completes the picture. It is certainly true that the polemics of Nejedlý, Stecker, and others occasionally departed from contemporary experience, concentrating more on minutiae from decades past. As with the “Novák Affair,” however, these issues continuously had a direct effect on contemporary composition, helping to shape, for better or worse, the direction of Czech modernism and its relation to the...

  12. Chapter Five The Pathology of the New Society: Debates in the Early Years of the First Republic (1918–24)
    (pp. 110-154)

    On October 28, 1918, a monumental change took place that altered the course of Czech society for the succeeding two decades: an assembly of figures from Czech political life gathered and issued a proclamation of independence, thereby ending 298 years of Austrian political and cultural domination. A new Republic was born that included not only a union of Czechs and Slovaks (for the first time in their history, creating borders that had never before existed), but also new minority populations of German, Hungarian, Polish, and Rusyn citizens, with which the new government and society had to contend. Almost overnight, attitudes...

  13. Chapter Six Infinite Melody, Ruthless Polyphony: Czech Modernism in the Early Republic
    (pp. 155-190)

    The first few years of the Czechoslovak Republic were somewhat paradoxical regarding music composed by members of its own community and the issues surrounding the production of this music. On the one hand, as we have seen in chapter 5, much of the critical debate focused on the role of these composers’ tradition-based fin-de-siècle modernism amid an increasingly present European avant-garde. Much of what was performed by the Czech Philharmonic and National Theater, however, consisted of the larger works of older Czech composers, written during the years of the First World War, at a time when fewer concert opportunities and...

  14. Chapter Seven “A Crisis of Modern Music or Audience?”: Changing Attitudes to Cultural and Stylistic Pluralism (1925–30)
    (pp. 191-222)

    The late 1920s were years of transition for the musical community of Prague, as the last vestiges of the prewar rivalries receded substantially in favor of new alliances. This period also witnessed the rise of a new generation of younger composers and critics, many of whose values and aesthetic views bore only a faint resemblance to those of their forebears. During what were perhaps the most peaceful and prosperous years of the First Republic, the issue of “national music” lost much of the urgency it had carried in earlier years; only now and then did it stand as a marker...

  15. Chapter Eight “I Have Rent My Soul in Two”: Divergent Directions for Czech Opera in the Late 1920s
    (pp. 223-259)

    The long shadows of the “Wozzeck Affair” extended over many endeavors of the Prague compositional community and its increasingly tense relations with the public in the late 1920s. As discussed in chapter 7, for several years after the November 1926 fiasco at the National Theater, all administrative decisions—largely conservative in the extreme—were made with Wozzeck in mind as a high-water mark of public reaction against modernism, never to be repeated. The reception of new works after this point, however, reflected something less tangible than box-office receipts. Almost invariably, operas of the late 1920s were afforded a new monolithic,...

  16. Chapter Nine Heaven on Earth: Socialism, Jazz , and a New Aesthetic Focus (1930–38)
    (pp. 260-299)

    In 1936, Jaroslav Ježek composed the music for a jazz revue entitled Nebe na zemi (Heaven on Earth) that was the smash hit of the Prague season. The title was an ironic statement on the political situation in the ailing First Republic as well as in the rest of Europe, particularly next door in the Third Reich. The political leanings of the revue’s text were demonstrably socialist, although with a Western, prodemocratic focus and a growing sense of Czech nationalism. Ježek’s score consisted of lively tangos, foxtrots, and other popular dances imported from America, as well as satirical, antifascist marches,...

  17. Chapter Ten “A Sad Optimism, the Happiness of the Resigned”: Extremes of Operatic Expression in the 1930s
    (pp. 300-325)

    The division of the young Czech avant-garde of the 1930s produced two camps, both aiming to resolve the question of how best to recapture an audience alienated by modernism.¹ Any opera composers of this generation would be daunted by the task of presenting their work before an audience that no longer considered opera a principal form of entertainment, or one that reflected their identity in the modern world. Each of the two compositional factions in Prague, however, faced a further uphill battle, in that neither of their aesthetic programs, in its purest form, was well suited to the traditional conventions...

  18. Chapter Eleven The Ideological Debates of Prague Within a European Context
    (pp. 326-338)

    In the words of Emil František Burian:

    Tradition. A hiding place. And it doesn’t cost us a lot of sweat to find the usual philistinism and unconscious conservatism in it. It is one of those words that we can throw countless times and it will never come back to us, not even discredited. How many reviews, articles, and analyses abound in this overused definition:

    If you are a futurist, you are not traditional.

    If you are a dadaist, same thing.

    If you are a poetist, still the same.

    If you are a romantic = ?

    Impressionist = ?

    Decadent =...

  19. Appendix One: Personalia
    (pp. 339-348)
  20. Appendix Two: Premieres and New Productions at the National Theater, 1900–1938
    (pp. 349-354)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 355-388)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 389-418)
  23. Index
    (pp. 419-432)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 433-433)