“The Prague Spring” is a term used for the brief period of time in 1968 when Alexander Dubček, the Communist leader of Czechoslovakia began to call for a more democratic government. Essentially, he wanted to lessen the stronghold that Moscow had on the nation’s affairs, as the Soviet Union had begun to exploit the people and imposing its rule on what was supposed to be a locally autonomous Czechoslovakia. Dubček was a reformist who came to power when former party leader, Antonin Novotný was ousted by student protests.
Dubček and the Prague Spring brought about a new openness to the people and during this time the Czech government, although still communist, encouraged new creation in art, literature, music and industry. Husa’s Music for Prague: 1968 however, was not a reaction to this ‘call for creativity’. Instead it was written as a reaction to the Soviet Union’s eventual crackdown on this new movement. On August 21 of that year, Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia and occupied the country. This invasion led to the death of 72 Czechs and Slovaks, and over 650 people wounded. Perhaps just as devastating as the loss of life was the complete reversal of the reforms that were enacted in the months before, putting Czechoslovakia under an even heavier rule than before.
This invasion also sparked enthusiastic protests, particularly by young people and students, much like the protests happening in the Middle East in these recent months. In fact, some have begun calling this current tumultuous time “The Arab Spring”. It seems apropos to be discussing and performing Husa’s Music for Prague, not only because we are celebrating this great composer’s masterpiece in his 90th year, but because of its heightened significance and relevance in today’s society.
Upon receiving a commission by Ithaca College, Karel Husa created Music for Prague: 1968 out of love for his homeland and sorrow for what he had seen happen to it during that year. The piece was premiered in January 1969 in Washington, DC at the Music Educators National Conference by Dr. Kenneth Snapp and the Ithaca College Concert Band.
If you are in the Maryland/DC area on September 29th, 2011, I hope you can come out and enjoy UMWO's performance of this piece- It is sure to be a moving and emotional musical experience!