The first two names always given at the top of the pantheon of Czech classical music are Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana; the third is invariably Leoš Janáček. Probably the most innovative of the three, Janáček likely lags behind the famous duo only because even today, 80 years after his death, musicians, musicologists and music lovers are still reassessing those innovations, which took classical music into uncharted territory.
Two decades ago the attention of the world’s media was on the West German Embassy in a normally quiet corner of Prague, where thousands of East Germans were living in a makeshift camp, desperate to escape from communism. On the 30th of September, 1989 the then West German foreign minister made a dramatic announcement: those refugees were free to emigrate to the West.
Petr Wagner is the front man of Czech Christian punk group Goro, a presenter on Český rozhlas station Radio Wave, and a Hussite preacher based in Čerčany, near Prague. Ahead of Monday’s national holiday in honour of Saint Wenceslas, I met Petr in a sunny Prague park to ask him what he thought the nation’s patron saint meant to Czechs a millennium after his death:
For a few weeks just after the fall of communism, Radio Prague went silent. Its days as a tool in the Cold War were over. After huge staff cuts, and with the old communist managers gone, Radio Prague went back on air early in 1990. A new era began for the English Section, and with so many sweeping social and economic changes under way, there was plenty to report about.
Prague’s Old Town Square may be famous for its grandeur and architectural beauty, but it is, in fact, a shadow of its former self. A great chunk of the Old Town Hall building was decimated by the Nazis at the end of the war, and has never been rebuilt. To this day, a rather bare park stands where most of the building once did. And across from the famous Jan Hus sculpture used to be a towering Marian column, built in 1650 and felled in 1918, by Czechs who felt it symbolized the country’s Habsburg past.
On November 17 1990, the first anniversary of the beginning of the Velvet Revolution, George Bush Sr. became the first American president to visit Czechoslovakia in the country’s 70-year history. This was a time of strong pro-American feeling here, and during their brief stay George and Barbara Bush were welcomed with genuine enthusiasm. Over a hundred thousand people gathered on Wenceslas Square to hear the president speak:
During Václav Havel’s first year as Czechoslovak president, Prague Castle saw a string of visitors from around the world. And they did not just include heads of state and other political dignitaries. On January 21 1990, one of the first foreign guests to be received by the new president was none other than the legendary American rock musician, Frank Zappa, who had been one of the inspirations for the Czech underground movement in the ‘70s and ‘80s, including Havel himself.
The usual station announcements boom out of the loudspeakers at London’s Liverpool Street Station on Friday but, if you listen hard enough, you can hear some of the tens of extra policemen drafted on special duty, and the hiss of a steam engine that’s just arrived at platform 10. The Winton Train set out from Prague on September 1, transporting some of the Czech and German Jewish children saved from the Holocaust by Sir Nicholas Winton back along the route they traveled to safety in 1939. On Friday, the train arrived in London, and was greeted
Today in Mailbox we find out the name of the Bohemian-born glass cutter as well as the names of the four lucky winners who will receive Radio Prague goodies for their correct answers. Listeners quoted: Christer Brunström, Vladimir Gudzenko, Hisanobu Ota, Charles Konecny, Ralph Francis, John Cebasek, S. J. Agboola, Don Schumann, Richard Chen, Colin Law, David Eldridge, Ioana Dinu, Jaromír Hauzar, Henrik Klemetz.
Around 20 of the 669 mostly Jewish children saved from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia by Nicholas Winton recreated their 1939 journey by steam train across Europe this week, arriving at Liverpool St on Friday morning. Sir Nicholas – now 100 years old - was there to welcome them. Also there on the platform was Štefan Füle, minister for European Affairs and a former Czech ambassador, and it was there at Liverpool St that he spoke to Radio Prague’s Rosie Johnston.