Hudební Věda

T. G. M. – A President Surrounded by Music

article summary

Viktor Velek

The personality of the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, seen in the light of his relation to music and musical life represents a topic that has so far received only fragmentary scholarly attention, which makes it a suitable subject for team-based interdisciplinary research. The present paper, which is an initial attempt at a comprehensive survey, is based on both the academic output of historians specialising in T. G. Masaryk’s life and work, and the existing narrowly focused musicological findings. The Introduction sums up the information gathered earlier by Bedřich Bělohlávek in his book Masaryk a hudba (“Masaryk and Music”, Prague 1936), i.e., the data related to Masaryk’s music education, his relation to music and arts in general, the role of his wife, Charlotte (a professional pianist), family music-making, etc. While Bělohlávek’s focus was on Masaryk as a citizen, this paper lays emphasis on Masaryk as the President.

The opening section deals with the development of research in this field and its historically changing conditions (the Second World War, the Communist era of 1948–1989). It was also thanks to Masaryk that music became an important vehicle for the presentation of the young republic abroad. Suffice it to mention his support for the young generation of composers (e.g., Anatol Provazník, Alois Hába and Bohuslav Martinů), as well as talented up and-coming performers (Jarmila Novotná, Rudolf Firkušný), and his respect for the older generation (Josef Suk, Leoš Janáček); this section also focuses on his attitude to Czechoslovakia’s German-speaking music scene. Extensive attention is paid to Masaryk’s attitude to the Smetana/Dvořák tradition, as well as his reflections on the works of Richard Wagner, Ludwig van Beethoven and other major composers. The paper also mentions the occasional critical voices raised against Masaryk (e.g., by Vítězslav Novák or Richard Kubla). Adequate space is reserved for an outline of the approach to music life taken by the Office of the President. Its tasks included the organisation of music productions at Prague Castle and other residences used by Masaryk, as well as handling correspondence, requests for official audiences and patronage of events, offers of honorary membership and music projects, requests for financial support, etc. The final section of the paper outlines options for further research, including another area that has not been studied so far: namely the category of compositions, extensive in terms of both quantity and content, on the theme of T. G. Masaryk. This is duly characterised as “T. G. Masaryk’s second life in music.” The paper presents multiple examples documenting that Masaryk’s relevance to the development of the Czech music scene was greater than had been thought.

The complete text of this article can be found in the printed edition of Hudební věda 1/2019