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The Curse of Brno!


During my spell at the music department of the Moravian Library this afternoon I came across an interesting interview with Miloš Štědroň, a major figure on the Brno music scene since the 1970s. Štědroň is currently a professor at the Musicology Department of Masaryk University (or the "Institute of Musical Science" as the article has it). He said a lot about music, of course, but what grabbed my attention were his comments about Brno. He touched on my pet topic, the difference between Prague and Brno and even mused on what makes Brno unique.

Asked by the interviewer to describe the "dynamic" musical life of Brno, Štědroň answered, "it was marked by what you might call the 'curse of Brno', which is hard to explain. Usually I say it is a matter of the relationship between Czech and German identity in the area." The relationship became more uneasy throughout the nineteenth century. German influence here was much stronger due to the city's proximity to Vienna, the Hapsburg capital. The situation came to a head in 1905 when a worker was shot during a demonstration. Štědroň continues, "Blood was spilt and there was no going back. Up to that time the Czechs and Germans in Brno had always quarrelled, brawled, and then always come together again in support of some idea. After 1905 it was no longer possible for Czechs to go to the German theatre. The divorce was final."

This, he suggests, is one explanation of Brno's unique cultural life. As in every cultural debate in the Czech lands after the mid-nineteenth century, there was a tension between German and Czech culture. This was more uncomfortable than in Prague due to the strength and importance of Germans here, and the final "break" between the two groups did not come until much later than in Prague. The unique situation of the Czech-German tension in Brno was one factor in shaping Brno's strangely modernist leanings that continue to the present. Štědroň cited architecture:
Generally a kind of embarrassment about the fact that actually there is a double or triple culture here. It is most obvious in the architecture, because in order for Brno to be given a Czech face something absolutely new had to be found. That was the reason for Functionalism. It was clear that this was something new, Czech, beautiful. This is the principle on which I would explain the specific character of Brno. The modern started here practically from scratch, much more so than anywhere else. (More)



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