Karel Husa, or how to make concert band socially relevant

You know you can’t trust a dodecaphonic composer if they’re smiling

My first experience with the music of Karel Husa was a sort of trial by fire. Freshman year I had joined an honors wind ensemble, and one of the first pieces we played was “Music for Prague 1968”. My little ears were not ready for such sounds, but they came and kept coming at me in a similar way that the soviet tanks kept coming at protesters. I didn’t know what to make of it, but all I knew was that this was cool. Years later, Karel Husa is still cool.

Before Husa, the public conception of wind band was that it was a sitting marching band which played nothing but light music. They somehow missed all the stuff Grainger, Hindemith, and Holst wrote for band, but nevermind. Then came Husa’s “Music for Prague” and it’s sister work “Apotheosis of this Earth”. Suddenly band became cool. These works dealt with the crushing of the Prague Spring uprising, and the destrution of the environment, respectivly. So it turns out that bands play more than Sousa marches. I honestly don’t know of any other “classical” works that deal with such heavy topics. Politcal stuff like this is usually done by socially aware rock bands, who cloak their agenda with vague metaphors, but not so vague that their fan base won’t be able to understand the meaning on a first hearing. From the piccolo imitating dove song, to the invasion, in the first movement, to the wild toccata and overwheming chorale in the fourth, Music for Prague grabs you by the throat and choke-slams you to the pavement. My dad said that listening to it made him physically angry, in a bad way, but that was coming from the guy whose favorite classical music is Copland’s american stuff, so take it with a grain of salt (A rather large grain, actually the entire salt shaker). Apotheosis is just as cool, with the first movement depicting the world coming into being, which is pretty stunning. In the second we hear the shouts of dying animals, where the chorus gets to do some fun howling stuff. The last movement has the chorus repeat the phrase “This beautiful earth” until it fades out. Powerful stuff. Also any chance you can use the word Apotheosis, use it. Both of these works are the kind of pieces you don’t know what to do afterwards: Do I clap? You feel awkward doing so.

Here’s the fourth movement of Music for Prague. Next time you see a communist punch him in the face.


About Why must you use all the notes

So much to do, so little reason to do so much of it...
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