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Weeknights at 7 p.m. on Classical 90.5
May 25 to May 29th
Czech Out Those Bohemian
Composers from the lands around the present-day Czech Republic have made an indelible mark on music – we'll examine their history and influence, from medieval times to the present.
Ninth century bells ring in the oldest medieval market square in Europe, Prague, whilst the calm Vltava streams throughout the picturesque former capital of Bohemia--also an inspiration behind Smetana's ode to his homeland.
Several traditional hymns introduce us to Old Bohemia, including ancient manuscripts in Slavic style, a Christmas song for King Wenceslas (surprisingly not the one we are accustomed to) and a 14th century Czech dance. Sprinkled between pieces are histories of the land during the early teen centuries
WIth the Austrians in charge of the lands, many Czechs could not deal with the changes in culture that followed suit, and therefore migrated to other parts of Europe. In this program, Bohemians in exile in the 17th and 18th century are explored. Amonst them was Heinrich Biber, as he spent most of his life in Austria. The program starts with his Venetian-like pieces for a requiem mass. Also a great violinst, Biber composed Sonata Representativa in A Major for the violin to represent a plethora of animals.
Zelenka, who was born near Prague, held a court musician position in Dresden. He wrote a capriccio while in Vienna, of which we hear the Andante and Paysan after songs from a requiem.
The Benda family also lived in exile, and as Protestants, they moved for religious reasons to Potsdam. Present-day family members continue the family's legend: Arianna Benda performs the patriarch Jan Jiri's Concerto in G for Violin and Strings; famed cellist Christian Benda plays Frantisek's Sonata in A; and Jiri Antonin's Concerto in B minor is played by Sebastian Benda.
A revolving plate of snippets from the great Czech masters ensue. Prague-born Frantisek Tuma, who resided in Vienna, opens with some high German Baroque music, followed by one of Gluck's arias.
The greats always seem to eventually connect and work off each other. Mysliveček, who studied opera in Italy, was a friend of Mozart's, and Vanhal played in a quartet with Mozart and Haydn, who also influenced his work. Mozart showcases his love for Prague in arguably his most extravagant symphony, #38 in D. Both born in 1770, Reicha and Beethoven became friends at 15, and Reich put his own spin on Mozart's tune.
The program takes a break from Viennese-sounding music and goes back to its roots with some authentically Czech music: Ryba's Christmas Mass and a polka from Smetana, amongst others.
The best-known Czech repertoire comes from the mid-19th century. Smetana's hauntingly beautiful ode to his homeland's longest running river, which is also a favorite tune of Prague's street musicians, evokes stirring images of Czech's lively countryside. Dvořák entertains with furiant rhythms in Slavonic Dances, followed by a more thoughtful piano trio from Dumky and a piece from his student and son-in-law, Josel Suk. Janaček reverts to the oldest Slavic language from St. Cyril and Methodius with his Glagolitic Mass, and Fibich, one of the most important composers after Dvořák, concludes with his famous "Poem."
The 20th century contributers reinvent the face of Czech music in this last segment on the heart of Europe. Beginning with a patriotic salute by Kurka, Martinů delivers a tragic memorial to Lidice, accompanied by Bill's recap of horrific history from World War II. Music from the prison camp, Terazin is uncovered, including Ullman, who "left the deepest mark" on music there, and Gideon Klein, a Prague-born pianist. Despite Schulhoff's tragic ending in a camp in Bavaria, his ragtime and jazzy music still delights today.
Bill wraps up details of Czech's tumultuous history, leading into the National Anthem and ending with a hopeful polka from Foerster. Czech children were indeed not born with a silver spoon in their mouths, but with a violin under their pillows---and a musical dream.