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Češki glasbeniki v 19. in na začetku 20. stolet ja na Slovenskem by Jernej Weiss (review)
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Češki glasbeniki v 19. in na začetku 20. stolet ja na Slovenskem [Czech Musicians in the 19th and early 20th Centuries in Slovenia]. By Jernej Weiss. pp. 616 (Litera, Maribor, 2013. €33. ISBN 978-961-6646-32-8.)

For centuries Czechs produced more musicians than the land could accommodate, which meant that many sought employment abroad. Czech musical emigration has accordingly been a favoured topic in Czech musical historiography, for instance in Jan Racek’s Česká hudba [Czech music] (1958), which contains a long list of Czech musicians working abroad. Vienna was geographically the easiest and thus most favoured destination: as a whole the German-speaking world drew in the most Czech musicians, although many also found themselves working in Russia, Paris, London, and several Italian cities. But for Slovenia Racek offers just one musician, František Josef Benedikt Dusík (1765–1816), based in Ljubljana. Racek’s account of Czech music history, however, goes up only to the early nineteenth century. Jernej Weiss’s new book deals with Czech musicians working in Slovenia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and rustles up a tally of eighty Czech musicians from this later period ‘who contributed significantly to the development of music culture [and] were active in Slovenia for an extended period of several years’ and in addition Weiss found ‘more than 300 Czech musicians active in Slovenia for a shorter period of time’ (p. 532).

These are astonishing numbers for a tiny country (smaller than Wales) even if historical ‘Slovenia’ was rather larger than the present-day independent country, taking in both Trieste (today in Italy) and Graz (today in Austria). There are several reasons for this. For the period covered, i.e. up to 1918, the land of the Slovenes and the land of the Czechs were all part of the same country—the Habsburg Empire. So no passports were needed nor were there any political constraints in moving from one to the other. Furthermore the education system was much the same, with qualifications from the Czech lands valid in Slovenia. Linguistically there were also advantages. German was the lingua franca of both areas, and Slovene, although not immediately comprehensible to Czechs, was nevertheless a related Slavonic language with a shared grammatical structure and much vocabulary in common so that it would not have been difficult for a Czech musician to pick up a working knowledge of Slovene in a short space of time. Czech periodicals such as Dalibor printed regular (and usually upbeat) accounts of Czech musicians working in Slovenia and so encouraged even more to try their hand there. During the period concerned, the Czech lands were well ahead of Slovenia culturally and musically: in their national ‘awakening’ the Slovenes were more half a century behind the Czechs, nor were there, unlike in Prague, any university-level institutions in the area to educate a cultural elite (in comparison, Charles University in Prague had been founded in 1348). Help was needed and Czechs flooded in and became the chief foreign musicians working in the area while the earlier German and Italian influences waned. It was only after the First World War that the inflow of Czech musicians subsided and Slovenian music institutions gradually began to be run by Slovenians, many of whom, however, had studied at the Prague Conservatory (p. 520 n. 1222).

Jernej Weiss has devoted much of his research to this topic, including a doctoral dissertation (2009) and two books on individual musicians from the Czech lands who spent most of their working lives in Slovenia. His study of Janáček’s pupil Emerik Beran (2008) was reviewed in Music & Letters (90 (2009), 709–11); a more recent book, Hans Gerstner (1851–1939): Življenje za glasbo [A life for music], containing reminiscences of Gerstner’s friend Gustav Mahler during his time in Ljubljana, was published in 2010. The present study, which brings together all of this and a huge amount of cognate research, could easily have become just a mini-dictionary but instead takes a broader and more interesting view in an attempt to show the ways in which Czech musicians contributed to the musical development of the region...