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Culture in the Czech Republic

Fine arts
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  • The Czech Republic ranks among the most attractive tourist destinations in all of Europe thanks to numerous monuments which display a rich variety of artistic styles, combined with high preservation standards.
  • After the fall of the Great Moravian Empire (905), which was artistically influenced by Byzantium, Czech art developed within the scope of West European artistic styles, though these styles were often adapted in unique ways.
  • Czech Gothic painting in particular developed its own distincive style (anonymous Master of the Vyssi Brod Altar, Master Theodoricus etc.).
  • Also outstanding is the work of architect Petr Parler, especially the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle and the decoration of the Old Town Bridge Tower of the famous Charles Bridge.
  • The late Gothic Vladislav Hall at Prague Castle, a work by Benedikt Reid, is one of the most marvellous secular halls of late Gothic style in the world.
  • During the Renaissance and the Manneristic Period numerous foreigners, mainly Italians, worked in Bohemia. The Emperor Rudolf II (who reigned between 1576 and 1611), an ardent collector and patron of the arts, brought many outstanding works by European artists to Bohemia which today form the basis of various contemporary collections.
  • The appearance of the Czech landscape was considerably enriched by Baroque architecture (especially by the buildings of Christopher and Kilian Ignaz Diezenhoffer and Giovanni Santini)
  • In addition, Czech Baroque painting (Petr Brandl, Jan Kupecky etc.) as well as sculpture (Ferdinand Maximilian Brokoff, Matthias Bernhard Braun) reached a high standard.
  • At the beginning of 20th century Czech Art Nouveau was among the world's finest (mainly in architecture and applied arts); the painterAlfons Mucha in particular made the style famous abroad.
  • Cubistic architecture is completely unique in Prague and functionalist buildings are also of great artistic value. A number of remarkable Czech artists of the 20th century lived and worked at least partly abroad, for example the painters Frantisek Kupka, Emil Filla, Toyen and Josef Sima.
  • Even contemporary Czech art, in spite of the difficulties in the communist era, retains a high standard (Jan Zrzavy, Mikulas Medek, Jiri Tichy, Jiri Kolar).
  • The birth of photography as an original art form is connected with names such as Frantisek Drtikol, Jaromir Funke, Jaroslav Rossler and Josef Sudek.

  • The Czech music scene came alive in the 19th century as national awareness began to increase, fostering composers the two great composers Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana whose work is played all over the world to this day. In the early part of this century the Czech composer Leos Janacek wrote strikingly original music that has achieved increasing popularity around the world in recent years.
  • The roots of Czech musical history are lodged in the distant 9th century. Over the course of the 11th century Gregorian chants predominated. They were complimented by traditional Czech sacred songs such as Saint Wenceslas.
  • Between 1583 and 1612 during the reign of Rudolf II, the Habsburg Imperial Orchestra - among the biggest ensembles in Europe - had its seat at Prague Castle. The Czech composer J.D. Zelenka, a contemporary of Bach's, was hailed as one of the leading composers of his age.
  • The arrival of the musical classicism period at the end of the 18th century saw the establishment of several new municipal opera houses in the country including the famed F.A. Nostitz theatre (later renamed the Stavovske theatre). It was here that some of Mozart's most famous operas had their opening nights.
  • A distinctive trait of the period was the emigration of Czech musicians fleeing low standards of living and religious oppression in their homeland. Czech musicians remained popular abroad though (J. V. Stamitz worked at Mannheim, the Benda family in Berlin and Gotha, J. Myslivecek in Italy, A. Rejcha in Paris).
  • The establishment of a new period of Czech music is connected with B. Smetana (1824-1884), A. Dvorak (1841-1904) and Z. Fibich (1850-1900). In the period 1890-1930 the leading personalities were L. Janacek, J. B. Foerster, O. Ostrcil, V. Novak and J. Suk, and later J. B. Martinu.
  • In the second half of the 20th century M. Kabelar and P. Eben achieved a worldwide reputation.
  • The foundation of the Czech Philharmonic was of decisive importance for musical life. They performed for the first time in 1896 (among the conductors were V. Talich, R. Kubelik, K. Ancerl, and V. Neumann).
  • Czech concert art was made famous above all by several internationally acclaimed violinists, pianists, chamber ensembles and singers. Among them are the violinist F.Ondricek, singers F. Burian and J. Novotna, and the pianist R. Firkusny chamber. In addition to the Czech Philharmonic, the Symphonic Orchestra of the City of Prague FOK is also well known.
  • The highlight of Czech concert life is the annual musical festival Prague Spring, featuring performers from around the world.
  • Despite political repression, jazz and rock‚n roll music started to develop at the end of the 1950s, mainly in clubs and alternative theatres. These were hot-beds of creativity from which many world-famous names arose, such as J. Stivin and R. Dasek. Many of them, such as J. Mraz, J. Hammer and A. Vitous established themselves as international stars living abroad.

  • After centuries of development, Czech literature began to attract international attention over the course of this century. Recently, the names of several Czech writers have joined the ranks of the world's literary luminaries and their work has been translated into dozens of languages.
  • Perhaps one of the most famous of Prague's literati was the German-Jewish writer Franz Kafka. In a series of unique novels and short stories Kafka mapped out the state of modern society. The dilemmas his characters found themselves in came to symbolize the absurdities of modern life, which people now describe as Kafkaesque.
  • Kafka's works are echoed in the internationally renowned novels of Milan Kundera which delve into the problematics of personal identity in today's world.
  • Many great writers emerged out of the period between the two world wars. Among them, perhaps the most famous was Karel Capek a humanist who wrote a number of anti-military works. In one of them he invented the word ‚Robot' which became an international word (R.U.R.- Rossum's Universal Robots). He also founded the crucial Czech literary organization PEN Club.
  • Other Czech writers, such as V. Nezval, K. Biebl, K. Teige, J. Seifert were on the cutting edge of the avant-garde of poetism and surrealism. In 1984 Seifert became the first Czech writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
  • Up to the end of World War II the Czech lands were also home to several German and Jewish writers living in Prague: Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Werfel and Max Brod.
  • After 1948, literature was materially and intellectually impoverished by the imposition of a centralized state ideology. Not until the 1960s as the communist regime eased did a new literary generation arise and efforts to renew contacts with Europe were revived.
  • However, the short period of artistic freedom ended in August 1968 with the invasion of the armies of the Warsaw Pact. The majority of the most important authors of the generation continued their work abroad; or their samizdat works circulated during the following two decades only in typed copies. Among these were the internationally renowned authors:
  • The emigre prose writers Milan Kundera, Arnost Lustig, Egon Hostovsky and Josef Skvorecky, and those who stayed home, Ludvik Vaculik, Ladislav Fuks, Bohumil Hrabal and Ivan Klima.

  • The theatre has played a crucial role in the history of the Czech nation. So much more fitting that today, Vaclav Havel, the country's most famous dissident playwright is also the president of the republic. Among his most famous absurdist plays, which have been translated and performed all over the world, are Temptation, Memorandum and The Garden Party.
  • Havel, along with fellow playwrights like Josef Topol, were tapping into a long theatrical tradition that began in the 12th century.
  • In 1862 the first permanent Czech theater Prozatimni divadlo (The Provisional Theater) was opened. The National Theater has stood as a strong symbol of national independence since it opened in 1881, thanks to public donations and collections. The first performance at the theatre was Smetana's Libuse, an opera based on the legendary founding of the city of Prague. Although it burned down afterwards it re-opened in 1883.
  • Between 1927 and 1938 the Osvobozene divadlo (The Liberated Theater) served as a breeding ground for a new genre of satiric political commentary developed by the authors and actors J. Voskovec and J. Werich.
  • After World War II regional theaters began to open. At the end of the 1950s theater life was revived with the creation of several small theaters: Divadlo Na Zabradli - Theater on the Balustrade, Semafor Theater, Divadlo za Branou - Theater Beyond the Gate (at present Divadlo za Branou II), and Cinoherni klub.
  • Czech stage design (F. Troster, F. Muzika, J. Capek, J. Svoboda - the founder of Laterna Magica) enjoyed great success abroad as did ballet (P. Smok), mime (L. Fialka, B. Hybner, B. Polivka) and puppet theater (Spejbl a Hurvinek Theatre, Vychodoceske loutkove divadlo DRAK - East Bohemian Puppet Theater DRAK in Hradec Kralove).

Czech filmmaking leaped into the international spotlight over the past couple of decades thanks to the work of directors Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel, whose films are played in moviehouses all over the world. Forman won Oscar awards for his films One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus and Menzel secured one for Ostre sledovane vlaky/Closely Watched Trains.
  • Film history in the Czech Republic goes back to 1898 when the first ones were produced by J. Krizenecky. The film era began to really take off in the country when permanent movie theatres started operating in 1907 and with the arrival of permanent film distributors in 1909.
  • In the 1930s Czech writers and cinematographers began making headway in the production of exceptional artistic films, documentaries and the first sound newsreels.
  • In 1945 Czechoslovak cinematography was nationalized. However its growth was slowed down after February 1948 when communist leaders started to interfere in film production and pushed the production of propaganda films.At that time puppet films by J. Trnka and cartoons and feature films by K. Zeman and J. Svankmajer achieved world wide fame.
  • In the 1960s productions by young artists formed the so-called Czech New Wave. Both Forman and Menzel were a part of this wave along with J. Jires, V. Chytilova, J. Nemec, E. Schorm and F. Vlacil. After the Soviet-led invasion in 1968 a series of films were locked away and prohibited. Among them J. Kadar‚s and E. Klos‚s Obchod na korze /The Shop on the Main Street/, which was awarded an Oscar in 1966, and J. Menzel‚s Ostre sledovane vlaky /Closely Watched Trains/, which received the same award the following year.
  • The most important modern film festivals which take place in the Czech Republic are the International Film Festival in Karlovy Vary and the Children‚s Film Festival in Zlin.
  • Every year the Czech Republic produces approximately 30 feature films and 1,200 documentaries and cartoons.
  • Recently, the state film industry went through economic transformation and privatization. A network of private film companies and distributors is now operating in the country.
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