Music Archives of the Czech Republic

By Sobotka, Mojmir | Czech Music, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Music Archives of the Czech Republic

Sobotka, Mojmir, Czech Music

The roots of the collections of musical sources commonly known as archives can be traced right back to the beginnings of notation and the first written records of music. Until the end of the Middle Ages, however, these materials were kept basically just to serve practical needs. The most important collections of music materials originated in cathedral choirs, monasteries, monarchic courts and the residences of nobles. In the Czech Lands most of these were destroyed during the Hussite Wars in the earlier 15th century, and during the Thirty Years War in the earlier 17th century. There were also considerable losses when the monasteries in the Bohemian Crown Lands were dissolved at the end of the 18th century as a result of Emperor Josef II's reforms, but many of their manuscripts and printed sources were transferred to what was then the University Library (now the National Library) in the Clementinum in Prague, the library of the newly founded Prague Conservatory and elsewhere.

The National Museum in Prague has been systematically collecting music and musicalia since its founding in 1818, but a separate music department was established here only in 1946. In the Czech Lands an important institution officially calling itself an archive in the field of music was the Music Archive of the Moravian Land Museum in Brno (now the Department of the History of Music of the Moravian Land Museum), founded in 1919. As far as folksongs were concerned, the beginnings of large-scale collection date back to the so-called Governor's Collection initiated in 1818. At the beginning of the 20th century working committees for Bohemian, Moravian-Silesian and German folksongs were formed, and the year 1919 saw the establishment of the Institute for Czechoslovak Folk Song. After a series of institutional incarnations its activities are now carried on by the Ethnological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, which also administers and develops its relevant archival funds.

Roughly from the mid-19th century, the amount of materials destined for long-term preservation and the quantity and diversity of the places where they were kept grew substantially all over the world. Today in the Czech Republic we have an evenly distributed nation-wide network of general and various specialised archives and museums, and also the archives of individual official organs of government, institutions, organisations, musical bodies (orchestras, choirs etc.) and individuals. Officially, 180 archives are recognised as the most important collections of musical sources in the Czech Republic. If we were to include all the places where more important sets of musical sources originating up to the 18th century are kept, the list would run into several hundred. An overall list of these collections in Bohemia is available in the Pruvodce po pramenech k dejindm hudby. Fondy a sbirky ulozene v Cechdch [Guide to Sources of History of Music. Funds and Collections in Bohemia] (Academia, Prague 1969), while collections in Moravia arc documented in Pruvodce po archivnich fondech Oddeleni dejin hudby [Guide to the Archive Funds of the Department of History of Music] (Moravian Land Museum, Brno; Vol. 11971, Vol. 2 2007). A brief overview, disfigured by some serious mistakes in Czech titles and names and other errors, is provided in a list of collections in the Czech Republic offered in the New Grove Dictionary of Music, Vol. 28.

At present the most comprehensive overview of the character and location of individual historical music materials in the Czech Lands can be obtained from the Comprehensive Music Catalogue compiled by the National Library since 1965 and now available on the Internet, and from other electronic databases now maintained by many important institutions with archives of old music manuscripts and prints. Some of the most important materials have been published in facsimile editions while progress is ongoing on making all such materials accessible in electronic databases, which is part of the worldwide process of digitalisation of manuscript, printed, iconographic, audio and audiovisual materials. …

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