If music be the food of love, play on!
Those are the words of Shakespeare. Who wasn’t Czech. As far as we know.
I digress. Again.
You want to get to know Czech culture better but haven’t yet mastered those seven cases well enough to tackle Klíma in the original. Why not try taking an aural journey through Czechland’s rich musical heritage instead? From opera to pop, Czech composers and songwriters have come up with some top tunes over the centuries. Sample five of them below and ensure that you do not go to the grave completely ignorant of Czech musical achievements.
1. Overture to The Bartered Bride, Bedrich Smetana
I’m no opera buff but I have become a big fan of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. I’ve even started singing bits in the shower – much to the amusement of Czechman.
I think most of us have some secret theme music that they imagine would kick off the big budget Hollywood film of their lives. The overture of The Bartered Bride is the tune I’d make them play as the credit rolled. It’s my secret happy ending music. It makes me want to fling my arms out and pirorette in a circle. I don’t actually do that too often: I may damage something or fall over and end up back in hospital.
2. Modliba pro Martu, Marta Kubišová
A minor Anglo-Czech domestic dispute
“You’re not writing about Marta Kubišová are you?”
“Because you don’t know anything about her! If you’re going to talk about Modliba pro Martu you have to explain that it became a sort of unoffical national protest song after the Russians overran Prague in 1968.”
“I was thinking of saying she’s a sort of Czech Dusty Springfield. Only without the beehive.”
3. Tepláky, Nightwork
Shakespeare, opera, the Soviet invasion…
This is all getting a bit serious. Time to lighten the tone.
This song by Nightwork pays tribute to what is arguably the favourite Czech item of clothing: tepláky (aka jogging bottoms or if you’re American, sweatpants). If you don’t whip off your work clothes as soon as you get in the door then immediately change into your comfy teplaky then slob out in front of the TV with your sliced cheese and rohliky, I regret to inform you that you are yet to become truly Czech.
You don’t need to understand the lyrics to find the video funny but the chorus always makes me titter. Tepláková souprava/kule dej si doprava: Jogging bottoms on, move your balls to the right.
4. Lítací, Lenka Dusilova
I can’t pretend I really know what this song is about. Running it through Google Translate hasn’t helped much either. Still, as it seems the most repeated lyric is ‘najnajnajnajnaaaaaa’ which I’m guessing is something like ‘ladidadidaaaaaa’ in English, at least I shouldn’t have too many problems joining in.
I listened to Mezi světy, the album this tune is taken from, while I was in hospital. It reminded me of what Jarvis Cocker said when he went to visit his old school recently: that pop music is no longer so central to our lives. Instead, it’s turned into something inoffensive and soothing you have on in the background like a scented candle. Still, when you’re lying in intensive care, soothing and inoffensive is what you need. Lenka hit the spot for me then for which I’m grateful.
5. Mám jizvu na rtu, Jaromír Nohavica
According to the Czech Musical Dictionary of Persons and Personalities, Jaromír Nohavica is “exceptionally talented, marked by his intelligence, erudition, sensitivity, and industriousness.” He’s also a bit of a controversial figure: it seems that he may have been an informer during Communism despite being critical of the regime in his music.
Whatever the truth of the matter, he is still responsible for penning and performing lots of songs I like, including this one.
Tell me all about your favourite Czech tunes – modern or classical, funny or serious – in the comments section. And next time I may even get around to that erudite and serious post on Communism. Or not.