There is more to be said about Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968 then there was time for at the recent CKCB concert. The piece represents in musical terms an expression of total anger and rage. These are emotions the full expression of which are generally frowned upon in general society as they often lead to destructive outbursts. Nonetheless, it is socially acceptable to express them through the arts. Among graphic arts one has to look no farther than Picasso’s Guernica, or much of Goya’s output to find powerful examples of outrage. With music we have fewer but still powerful examples. In the 1960s Krzysztof Penderecki gave us some powerful examples. Following the death of Josef Stalin and it became relatively safer to do so, nearly every note of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich is suffused with anguished rage over the suffering of the Russian people. Such music is powerful, but it certainly isn’t pretty in the conventional sense, nor is it intended to be.
It should interest those associated with great music for the wind band to know that Music for Prague 1968 is not Mr. Husa’s only composition of this nature. Two years later he expressed his strong feeling about the earth’s impending environmental/nuclear catastrophe with his Apotheosis of this Earth. This is a three-movement composition in which he depicts the destruction of the planet in the second movement followed by sorrowful postscript. I’ve played the piece and as doing so, sitting in the midst of the second-movement’s tumult, I was thinking that if the world’s leaders could be sitting where I was, they’d soon mend their ways. Once in conversation with Mr. Husa about the piece I commented on his extreme pessimism. He told me that I was overlooking the return of the piccolo bird’s song in the final measures of the postscript movement.
By Dr. Ben Hawkins, CKCB Conductor
As a high school student away at band camp in August 1968, I awoke one morning and set out for the dining hall for breakfast. Passing the reception desk, I noticed the unusually bold headline on the front page of the Washington Post on top of the stack of newspapers there. I paused to look more closely at the accompanying photo of Soviet tanks in the streets of Prague. Even among the myriad of shocking events that characterized that tumultuous year, the brutal extermination of the blossoming of freedom known as the “Prague Spring” was, and remains, among my foremost memories of that time.
As a native Czech, American composer Karel Husa was much more deeply affected than I. Fortunately for us, Husa channeled his pain and outrage into the creation of the great work of art that constitutes the centerpiece of our March concert, War and Remembrance.
As befits the gravity of its subject, Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968 seeks not to entertain, but rather to provoke our anger at the ruthlessness of the Russian invasion and our empathy for the suffering of the Czech people. It challenges both performers and listeners to enter into and to reflect upon the human cost of such a cataclysm. Drawing its musical inspiration from a 15th-century Huttite war song and from the composer’s memory of the bells resounding from Prague’s hundreds of steeples, Music for Prague 1968 takes us on an emotional journey from the initial idyllic birdsong through the stages of shock, sadness and confusion to a final statement of resolute defiance.
Born in Prague in 1921, Karel Husa died in December, 2016. A recipient of many major awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Husa spent most of his adulthood on the faculty of Cornell University. About 20 years ago, I had the great good fortune to meet him and to watch him rehearse and perform Music for Prague 1968 with the Kentucky Intercollegiate Band. The experience remains indelibly imprinted in my memory, and I remember the man himself as the epitome of kindness, graciousness and humility, whose eyes alternately sparkled and burned with intelligence and passion. For me, sharing music like this with my friends in the band, and in turn with our audience, is just about as good as it gets. I invite you to share it with us.
Want to experience Music for Prague 1968, and such other stirring selections as The Symphonic Suite from Band of Brothers, Colonel Bogey, and Milhaud’s Suite Francaise for Band? Join the band at 3PM on Sunday, March 5th at Transylvania University’s Mitchell Fine Arts Center. There is no charge for admission.
By Don Schabel
The next concert presented by the Central Kentucky Concert Band will be on Sunday, March 5th, at 3 p.m. at Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium. This concert commemorates the month of March which is named for the Roman god of war, Mars.
At Christmastime many of us heard or sang the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslaus.” Few of us knew who Wenceslaus was, though the carol’s words tell us that he was good and caring. Wenceslaus was a king who ruled during the tenth century in Central Europe–the land now known as the Czech Republic. After his assassination in 935, he gained sainthood, and today his helmet and sword are on display in the castle in Prague. Wenceslaus is the Latin form of the Czech male name “Vaclav.” A common name in the Czech Republic, Vaclav was the name of the first president of the modern Czech Republic – Vaclav Havel.
After the First World War, Czechoslovakia was created, and Prague was named the capital city of the country. However, in March 1939, prior to the outbreak of World War II, the German Army occupied Prague. The city was liberated and occupied by the Russians in 1945 at the end of World War II. Prague became a city controlled by the Soviet Union. More than two decades later, in 1968, the people of the city of Prague revolted against the oppressive regime of the Soviet Union. This time became known as the Prague Spring.
In 1993, Czechoslovakia was peacefully dissolved and became the two independent states — Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
The major piece that the Central Kentucky Concert Band will be perform at the March concert is a composition by the contemporary American composer Karel Husa, Music for Prague 1968. Karel Husa, an American citizen who was born in Prague in 1921, listened to his radio during the tumultuous 1968 battle in Prague. Though he was a music teacher at Cornell University, he still had close family living in Prague.
His composition, Music for Prague 1968, was composed for band during the latter half of 1968. In 1969, he arranged the music for orchestra – one of the few pieces that were originally written for band and later arranged for performance by orchestra. (More often it is the other way around.) Husa was the recipient of many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. He passed away in 2016.
Music for Prague 1968 is in four movements. The first is named “Introduction and Fanfare”; the second is named “Aria”; the third, performed by the percussion section alone, is entitled “e; and the final movement is named “Toccata and Chorale”.
Husa has written his own foreword to his composition. Part of that foreword says,
Three main ideas bind the composition together. The first and most important is an old Hussite war song from the 15th century, “Ye Warriors of God and His Law,” a symbol of resistance and hope for hundreds of years, whenever fate lay heavy on the Czech nation. It has been utilized by many Czech composers, including Smetana in My Country. The beginning of this religious song is announced very softly in the first movement by the timpani and concludes in a strong unison Chorale. The song is never used in its entirety.
The second idea is the sound of bells throughout; Prague, named also the “City of Hundreds of Towers,” has used its magnificently sounding church bells as calls of distress as well as of victory.
The last idea is a motif of three chords first appearing very softly under the piccolo solo at the beginning of the piece, in flutes, clarinets, and horns. Later it appears at extremely strong dynamic levels, for example in the middle the Aria.
During the March 5th concert, the Central Kentucky Concert Band will also perform music from the TV mini-series “Band of Brothers” and the ever-popular march Colonel Bogey.
There is no admission charge for the concert.
From our perspective from last week’s concert we could practically feel the salt spray of the ocean and see every azure hue of the lake as we presented “Water Music!” We loved the opportunity to present to our wonderful audience all the fine pieces of music our conductor, Ben Hawkins, skillfully selected. Of course the band members expended much energy along with our conductor in rehearsing and presenting these pieces, but it takes many more people to present a concert of this magnitude.
This is the band’s opportunity to thank those persons: the audience, stage crew, our friends of the band, spouses and family members, the band board members, cookie bakers, and even the Jolly Old Elf, himself, Santa, who made his most welcomed seasonal appearance! We’re hoping to remain on the “nice” list. “Thank you” to everyone who makes this venture so successful!
As the new year begins, so do rehearsals. We are excited to perform our next concert at 3 PM on March 5, again at Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium. Our next concert will be thematically centered upon the most somber of subjects: War. As emotionally-charged as our last concert was, we very much anticipate exploring the vast spectrum of feelings associated with this topic and presenting it to you this March.