Music for Prague 1968
Length: c. 25 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (antique cymbals, bass drum, chimes, cymbals, marimba, snare drum, tam-tam, tom-tom, triangles), harp, piano, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
If Ligeti was already undergoing a kind of internal artistic exile when he composed his Concerto in Budapest, Karel Husa was at the same moment suffering actual physical exile, unable to return home from his studies in France because he was deemed insufficiently supportive of the new Communist regime in Prague. The year of the Ligeti Concerto, 1951, saw Husa also involved with national materials, in his Evocations of Slovakia. Yet his most important and most celebrated work, in its own way as devotedly Czech, was to come almost two decades later, with the composer still in exile but now living in the United States: Music for Prague 1968, which received its premiere in Washington, DC, by the Ithaca College Concert Band in January 1969. The orchestral version followed just a year later, first performed under Husa's own baton by the Munich Philharmonic in January 1970. Having endured the Communist takeover in the 1940s, Husa watched again in dismay as the Prague Spring of 1968, led by the forward-thinking Dubc?ek government, was crushed by Soviet tanks, the country occupied, the tantalizing glimpses of freedom snuffed out. Spurred by anger and frustration, Husa produced a powerful four-movement work that became a kind of instant classic, enjoying more than 7,000 performances to date.
The composer usually asks that his own Foreword be reproduced in concert programs. It reads, in part, "Three main ideas bind the composition together. The first and most important is an old Hussite war song from the 15th century, 'Ye Warriors of God and His Law,' a symbol of resistance and hope for hundreds of years, whenever fate lay heavy on the Czech nation. It has been utilized by many Czech composers, including Smetana in My Country. The beginning of this religious song is announced very softly in the first movement by timpani and concludes in a strong unison Chorale. The song is never used in its entirety. The second idea is the sound of bells throughout; Prague, named also the City of Hundreds of Towers, has used its magnificently sounding church bells as calls of distress as well as of victory. The last idea is a motif of three chords first appearing very softly under the piccolo solo at the beginning of the piece, in flutes, clarinets, and horns. Later it appears at extremely strong dynamic levels, for example in the middle of the Aria movement. Much symbolism also appears: in addition to the distress calls in the first movement (Fanfares), the unbroken hope of the Hussite song, sound of bells, or the tragedy (Aria), there is also a bird call at the beginning (piccolo solo), symbol of the liberty which the city of Prague has seen only for moments during its thousand years of existence."
- Steven Stucky is Consulting Composer for New Music for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.