Rethinking Dvořák: Views from Five Countries

Rethinking Dvořák: Views from Five Countries

Rethinking Dvořák: Views from Five Countries

Rethinking Dvořák: Views from Five Countries

Synopsis

This book's twenty-four essays offer the latest insights into this Czech composer by experts worldwide, including many Czechs who have never before published in English. They present new viewpoints reflecting the changed political climate in Eastern Europe; and emphasize Dvorak's significance not only as a Czech nationalist, but as a composer whose message is universally understood.

Excerpt

David R. Beveridge

The 150th anniversary of the birth of Antonín Dvor+̆ák, celebrated on 8 September 1991, was no arbitrary milestone. Rather, it came at a time when a reconsideration of this composer was invited, even demanded, by world events. What bearing the politics of 1991 may have had on a musician of the nineteenth century may not be obvious. But Dvor+̆ák's image, rightly or wrongly, has always been conditioned by his status as a 'Czech nationalist'. and in 1991, thanks to the 'Velvet Revolution' in Czechoslovakia, the demise of the Soviet Union, and the rise of newly independent nations throughout the former 'Eastern Bloc', the world could better understand -- better, perhaps, than at any time during or since Dvor+̆ák's life -- the true significance of the Czech nation and its relation to European culture as a whole.

The political situation in 1911 presented a striking contrast with that during Dvor+̆ák's centenary year in 1941, when the Czech lands lay occupied by Nazi Germany. But that dark hour of history was only one link in a centuries-long pattern whereby Czech culture was stifled and distorted, both by armies and by ideas. From 1526 until 1918, the Czechs were ruled by the Habsburgs of Austria -- an association that was voluntary and seemingly benign at first, but that led to a systematic suppression of Czech language and customs in favour of foreign models beginning with the Thirty Years' War. the influence of the Habsburgs lingers even today in the German names they used for Czech geographical features: the river Moldau, famous to us from Smetana's tone-poem, should by rights have the Czech name Vltava.

Following World War I and the demise of the Habsburg Empire, Czechoslovakia was established as an independent political entity, combining the Czechs of Bohemia, Moravia, and southern Silesia with their Slovak cousins to the east. Hopes of a national resurgence were aroused, but these hopes were snuffed out by Hitler in 1938, and the Nazis were only replaced by the next oppressor, Soviet Russia.

It is easy to forget, if indeed we ever knew, that things were not always so . . .

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