Event Title

Memories of Silence: Music and Privilege in Communist Czechoslovakia

Location

King Building 127

Document Type

Presentation

Start Date

4-27-2019 3:00 PM

End Date

4-27-2019 4:20 PM

Abstract

To what extent does a government decide who will be memorialized and who will be forgotten? In Communist Czechoslovakia during the 70s and 80s allegiance–knowing which of your acquaintances were “with” the government and which were “against”–was often a matter of life and death. Czech composer Jan Kapr spent his life oscillating between nationwide, complex political power struggles and the pursuit of music as a craft. Using ethnographic and archival research, I explore the relationship between politics and Kapr’s music within Communist Czechoslovakia between 1948 and 1989 while reframing the parameters through which we talk about the Cold War. I explore the ways in which the changing political climate in Communist Czechoslovakia not only affected Kapr’s personal relationship with the government, but also how those relationships permeated his musical works. My goal is to enhance our understanding of how the social and political capital that Kapr gained through the careful navigation of official political networks during the 60s and 70s aided him later when he turned against the official dogma and made active interventions on behalf of persecuted composers. By understanding Kapr’s life, I reveal how significant personal actions are privileged over national narratives, which often erase variation in individuals’ lives and homogenize reactions. Moreover, it forces living generations to confront the reality that there is no single correct dominant discourse against which all other narratives are judged.

Keywords:

music, Communism, Czechoslovakia, memory

Notes

Session V, Panel 15 - National | Identity
Moderator: Ann Sherif, Professor of Japanese

Major

Musical Studies; East Asian Studies

Advisor(s)

Jennifer Fraser, Musicology
Sheila M. Jager, East Asian Studies

Project Mentor(s)

Jennifer Fraser. Ethnomusicology

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Apr 27th, 3:00 PM Apr 27th, 4:20 PM

Memories of Silence: Music and Privilege in Communist Czechoslovakia

King Building 127

To what extent does a government decide who will be memorialized and who will be forgotten? In Communist Czechoslovakia during the 70s and 80s allegiance–knowing which of your acquaintances were “with” the government and which were “against”–was often a matter of life and death. Czech composer Jan Kapr spent his life oscillating between nationwide, complex political power struggles and the pursuit of music as a craft. Using ethnographic and archival research, I explore the relationship between politics and Kapr’s music within Communist Czechoslovakia between 1948 and 1989 while reframing the parameters through which we talk about the Cold War. I explore the ways in which the changing political climate in Communist Czechoslovakia not only affected Kapr’s personal relationship with the government, but also how those relationships permeated his musical works. My goal is to enhance our understanding of how the social and political capital that Kapr gained through the careful navigation of official political networks during the 60s and 70s aided him later when he turned against the official dogma and made active interventions on behalf of persecuted composers. By understanding Kapr’s life, I reveal how significant personal actions are privileged over national narratives, which often erase variation in individuals’ lives and homogenize reactions. Moreover, it forces living generations to confront the reality that there is no single correct dominant discourse against which all other narratives are judged.