The Year of Czech Music 2024 and Smetana 200
The Year of Czech Music was first observed one hundred years ago in 1924, its theme being a celebration of the centenary of the birth of Bedřich Smetana. Since then, it has been organised, with a few exceptions, in every year ending with the number four, gradually expanding its dramaturgical scope to a somewhat limited extent. In the upcoming anniversary Year of Czech Music 2024, we would like to highlight for the first time the breadth and diversity of all genres of music that have been produced or are yet to be produced on the Czech territory. We intend to do so in a form that is markedly different from the Years of Czech Music that took place in the times of a bi-polar world and the Europe divided into East and West. The seemingly neutral and identical name of these celebrations, which were timed to coincide with the anniversaries of the births or deaths of important personalities (Václav Jan Tomášek, Bedřich Smetana, Josef Suk, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, Bohuslav Martinů, etc.), in fact masked an ideologically distinct and decidedly nationalistic perception of the Czech musical past. Not only was the existence of Slovak [national] music strangely 'forgotten' back then, but more importantly, there was no mention of the fact that there had also been artists of Jewish or German cultural background working in the Czech lands.
The far-reaching social and political changes in the 1990s made it attainable to articulate a much more sophisticated and more inclusive approach to music history than the previous ones. Many of the formerly neglected names and facts have become commonplace in the current historical discourse. The earlier rather simplistic view of music history in the Czech lands has become no longer tenable; instead, both the peculiarities and distinctive characteristics of different cultural subjects operating in the same spacetime and the universal nature of the work of the individual members of the "national" schools of music have now come to the fore. Unfortunately, for economic and social constraints, none of the Years of Czech Music after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 succeeded in reflecting this consistently.
The year 2024 is once again the year of many anniversaries of Czech composers or composers active in the Czech lands. However, it is also unique in that it will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bedřich Smetana, who is widely and justly regarded as the founder of Czech national music. We want to reflect on these facts and further highlight them. Rather than providing answers, we want to raise questions. The central among them being: How can Czech music be delineated today - if at all - and who has and is involved in shaping it? How can we explain the extraordinary appeal of the works of many composers from this region and the approach towards these works that today is more focused on their "universal" distinct characteristics than on their local uniqueness? What differing visions of "Czech national music" did individual composers have, what kind of "Czech music" did they dream of? What different " narratives of music" did they once create and how can they be read or "deconstructed" today? Which of these "stories" were the most successful? To what extent is the definition of 'Czechness" supple, to what degree is it constantly accommodating to each new distinctive creative figure that broadens its boundaries? But also, how did composers treat their "Czechness", when and to what extent did they experience it as something “natural", when it was a conscious choice or even a deliberate calculation in order to better position themselves on the "music market”? What is the standing of those composers who never strove for "Czechness"? What about the issues of stylizing and idealizing at large? In addition to classical music, the Year of Czech Music 2024 will also present other genres, comprising a wide array of genres from folk music to jazz to alternative music.
The bicentennial of Bedřich Smetana's birth provides us with a unique opportunity to implement the national topic of the year, which is far from being confined to the field of music. We would like to establish a communication specifically aimed at promoting the Czech Republic both at home and abroad, in addition to top-class artistic programs, inventive artistic achievements and events for the wider public. We particularly intend to promote the Czech identity to the world and bolster the brand of the Czech Republic as a great cultural power with a rich past and an innovative present. Domestically, the phenomenon of Bedřich Smetana embodies the essence of themes related to the complex struggle for the emancipation of Czech society with all the positives and negatives that are worth recalling, reviewing, and interpreting openly and freely. The main thematic focus of Smetana's time was the search for the specific character of Czech identity in a tumultuously developing world, which remains relevant in the 21st century.
The project is coming up with an open concept, i.e. not one one aimed at cultural events for a limited, exclusive group of people, but for the entire society. At the same time, the project also represents the Czech contribution to the international community. Indeed, the work of Bedřich Smetana will also be put in a European and global context. If it is made possible to carry out the project in this broad scope on a national level, the achievements will carry on even after its completion as a value that will not dissipate.