The Prague Manifesto after (Almost) Sixty Years

Article excerpt

The first postwar years (1945-48/49) were marked by a remarkable amount of international activity in Czech music culture. Naturally this was partly an attempt to reestablish contacts broken by the war (and in the field of music these had been particularly intensive under the prewar First Republic), but it was also a response to the perceived necessity to enter discussion on newly emerging themes. One of the most pressing themes, raised immediately the war ended, was that of a "crisis of contemporary music". What was also behind these renewed international activities was, however, the attempt to represent the reestablished Czechoslovakia to the world--and music had traditionally been a successful Czechoslovak cultural export. The political climate of postwar Europe was generally orientated to the left, and this was even more the case in those areas of Europe that had found themselves in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union as a result of wartime developments. In the ascendant, the left wanted to express its hegemony on an international stage, and leftist campaigning in the sphere of culture (as in other spheres) was considered an important instrument of propaganda and ideological struggle (the communists liked to appropriate the category of "progress" for example, identifying it with fundamental political doctrines based on a single "scientific world view").

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2nd International Congress of Composers

From its very first year (1946) the international Prague Spring music festival was a highly respected musical event. Other influential international activities in Czech music culture included the two international congresses of composers and music critics organised by the Syndicate of Czech Composers in May 1947 and the following year--always timed to coincide with the Prague Spring Festival. The 1st International Congress of Composers and Music Critics met in Prague on the 16th to the 26th of May 1947 and was attended by delegates from 16 countries. The main theme was of course the establishment of contacts and the programme motto was the question "Where is contemporary music going?" The papers presented at the congress were published in a collection entitled The Music of the Nations (1). As far as can be gathered from these papers, the claim that contemporary music was in a state of crisis was universal and made spontaneously by the delegates of both "western" and "eastern" countries. In the following year (20th-29th of May 1948) the 2nd International Congress of Composers developed the themes introduced at the 1st Congress, and its conclusions were formulated in one of the official congress documents, entitled the Proclamation (Provolani) but also known as the Prague Manifesto. The question "Where is contemporary music going?" was considered in detail at the 2nd Congress in terms of the creative problems of the contemporary composer and the problems of the contemporary music critic.

The political changes that had just occurred in Czechoslovakia (the communist takeover in February 1948), increased the importance of the 2nd International Congress of Composers and Music Critics for its time. From the outset the communists concentrated a great deal of attention on the field of art and culture as an extremely useful instrument in its political struggle "for the soul of every person", as the Czechoslovak Communist Party Cultural Political Programme put it in a declaration at the Congress of National Culture soon after (in April 1948) the political coup. The communist cultural offensive was planned in detail and skillfully coordinated. The main speakers at the Congress of National Culture were the leaders of the communist regime--Klement Gottwald (Prime Minister), Vaclav Kopecky (Minister of Information), Zdenek Nejedly (Minister of Education and Enlightenment) and Ladislav Stoll (literary theorist, communist critic, essayist, high-ranking functionary of the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party). …