You are here

Czech Music

The traditional music of Bohemia and Moravia has been well documented and influenced the work of classical composers like Leoš Janáček, Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, and Bohuslav Martinů. The most famous classical music pieces from Czech Republic include The New World Symphony from Dvořák, Má vlast from Smetana and Sinfonietta from Janáček. Through the centuries, Czech composers were influenced by traditional music from their country, which can be seen especially when listening to Smetana.

Undoubtedly the most internationally famous dance is Bohemian polka. Polka is a dance that became popular across Europe in the 19th century and spread across the world. Perhaps the most famous example is Škoda lásky ("Wasted Love") from 1927, world-known under the name Beer Barrel Polka. Czechs had a highly influential role in the development of Mexican cultural music. In the 1800s immigrants from Moravia were settling in the gulf coast area of Texas; many of them brought along polkas and waltzes which began to become popular with the Mexican people who lived among them.

Bohemian traditional music is most innovative in Chodsko, where bagpipes are common. Moravian traditional music is best known for the cimbalom, which is played in ensembles that also include double bass, clarinet and violins. The traditional music of the regions of Moravia displays foreign influences, especially in Valachia which is tinged by Romanian and Ukrainian legacy and has close cultural relations with Slovakia and Lachia (the borderland of northern Moravia and Czech Silesia).

Czech Folk Music and Czech Days

Czechs have always had a passion for dancing and singing. The dances are often named after the towns where they were first introduced. Folk dances such as the hulan and waltz-like sousedska are commonly performed, as are folk dances from nearby areas, such as the lindler from Austria. One does not have to travel to the Czech Republic to hear the joyful music from the area.

By far, the most familiar Czech folk dance is the polka, which is sung and danced on Czech days in every German biergarten and Czech-speaking community in the world. The polka is a major attraction in Czech tourism today. The polka is performed with accordions, clarinets, trumpets or French horns, sometimes bass or trap drums and almost always, a tuba.

Czech Pop Music

English-speaking visitors listening to Czech radio may be surprised at the prevalence of familiar tunes, but with lyrics sung in Czech. These imported pop standards aside, rock and roll has taken over, often with influences and instrumentations taken from more traditional Czech styles.

The Czech Republic has been a popular venue for punk, punk rock and metal bands.  The 1960s also saw popularity grow of American bluegrass music, and the first European festival was held in 1972. In 1964 and 1982, Pete Seeger toured the country, inspiring generations of Czech bluegrass and American-style folk musicians.

One the most famous bands of the Czechoslovak music scene was the Plastic People of the Universe.  Founded in 1968 in Prague at the time of the famous Prague Spring, when the regime grant moved toward some liberalization and democratization. During the subsequent period, after the brutal 1968 invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact, the Plastic People of the Universe was a leading representative of Prague's underground culture (1968–1989). This avant-garde group went against the grain of the Communist regime and due to its non-conformism often suffered serious problems such as arrests.  Despite the brutal 1968 invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact, the group continued to perform its own style of a classic 60’s rock music in communist Czechoslovakia well into the 80’s.  In 1976, the Plastics and other people from the underground scene were arrested and put on trial (after performing at the Third festival of the second culture) by the Communist government to make an example. They were convicted of "organized disturbance of the peace" and sentenced to terms in prison ranging from 8 to 18 months.  It was in protest of these arrests and prosecution that led playwright Václav Havel and others to write the Charter 77. Despite their clashes with the government, the musicians never considered themselves activists and always claimed that they wanted only to play their music.   The band broke up in 1988, with some members forming another group), which recorded briefly.  At President Havel's suggestion, they reunited in 1997 in honor of the 20th anniversary of Charter 77, and have performed regularly since then.

Source references:


Historical Summary of Czech Music

See the link below for a history of Czech classical music.