European Dance Repertoire in Czech Manuscripts of the First Half of the 19th Century and the Personality of Jiri Hartl

By Vejvoda, Zdenek | Czech Music, April 2012 | Go to article overview

European Dance Repertoire in Czech Manuscripts of the First Half of the 19th Century and the Personality of Jiri Hartl


Vejvoda, Zdenek, Czech Music


Notwithstanding the paucity of sources, the musical repertoire of country and town dances in the Czech lands in the 19th century is one of the subjects of current Czech ethnomusicology since it bears witness to an interesting encounter between pan-European trends and the domestic tradition.

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At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, the popularity of the originally French minuet faded and in the 184os the entire Western world was overwhelmed by the fashionable wave of the Viennese waltz, which up to the present day is the most popular component of the compound-time social dance repertoire. In the meantime--virtually throughout the first half of the 19th century--the role of the most popular dance was played by the direct predecessor of the waltz, the ldndler, also originally a German/Austrian dance. Its extreme popularity is documented by a unique monument to Czech dance music: a set of manuscripts by the Stara Paka schoolmaster Jiri Josef Benedikt Hard (1781-1849). To date, the general public knows little about Jiri Hartl's life, merely in connection with the discovery of the precious manuscript titled Partibus pro Violin Prim fiir mich Georgius Hard dating from 1811. The professional public has known of its existence since the 1870s. Several extracts accompanied by a specialist commentary by the music folklorist Jaroslav Markl were published in the journal Cesky lid (1979, 1986), yet the manuscript itself remained the property of the family. After research was revived, in 2004 another notebook, bearing the Czech title Parouka pro Jiriho Harte, comprising instrumental melodies dating from between 1820 and 1843, was discovered in Hartl's personal effects in Star/Paka. In 2006 a new evaluation of these precious sources of dance music of the first half of the 19th century, which will result in a critical edition and a set of musico-historical and analytical studies, was facilitated by Hard's manuscripts being purchased for the collections of the Institute of Ethnology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague.

The two notebooks contain a total of 840 notations of instrumental dance tunes which the Stara Paka schoolmaster and first violin of the local band wrote down for his own needs from 1810 to 1843. They represent a comprehensive series of melodies and typical solos, called cadentia. Hard noted down the first violin part with instrumental notes, cues of solo sections of other instruments, included the names of the majority of the dances and made other verbal notes of various meaning. Owing to this abundance of data, we can reconstruct the configuration of Hartl's band. Its line-up varied but was most likely made up of a maximum of ten members: at least two violins, probably a viola, a double-bass, one or two clarinets and a trumpet, occasionally a flute and a bassoon. The bandmaster's notes are written in both Czech and German, documenting the period's bilingualism.

I should at this juncture point out the manuscript's purpose: for the practical needs of the Stara Paka bandmaster. It is not a collection subject to aesthetic or any other (self-) censorship, neither is it an anthology aiming in addition to represent or educate. Hartl's notations thus bear faithful witness to the performance of entertainment dance or utility music as it was practised two hundred years ago, as well as the period dance repertoire itself. And this testimony is fascinating indeed.

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In general, the repertoire of the town dances in the Czech lands at the turn of the 19th century reveals the growing popularity of dances of foreign provenience. Besides the polonaise, schotische, galop, mazurka, contretanz (quadrille) they primarily include the German dances londler and steiriscb, and later on various types of waltz akin to them. All these dance types are mentioned in Hartl's manuscript too. On the last pages of Hartl's Partibus, twelve Czech folk dances are added alongside one waltz: the fizgant, schooisch (dated 5 June 1814), marsch-tanz, bazant, kaiak, batter, kalamajka, husa(r), hulan (in G major), hulan (in D major), trinozka (in D major) and trinozka (in G major). …

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