Tuesday, January 17,2012: Where Is My Home?
Where Is My Home? — The Voice Behind the Anthem
You probably are acquainted with the melody of the Czech national anthem “Kde Domov Můj?” (“Where is my Home?”). But did you know that it’s based on a song from the musical comedy Fidlovačka, or No Anger and No Brawl, written by composer František Škroup and playwright Josef Kajetán Tyl?
It was their attempt to assert Czech national identity on the cultural scene in 19th-century Prague.
Few people also know, though, that the first person to sing it in public was operatic bass Karel Strakatý, who played the role of blind fiddler Mareš at the musical’s premiere on the stage of the Prague Estates Theatre in 1834.
While it’s probably fair to recognise the role of Škroup and Tyl as the creators of the song, we have to admit that it was Karel Strakatý who played the decisive role in popularising it. Period sources indicate that Tyl attached little significance to the song, feeling that Škroup’s melody was too mushy. It was certainly not any form of censorship or even self-censorship that led to it being omitted in later performances of the musical. This made no difference anyway, as the musical was soon removed from the repertoire altogether, not because of the song, but because the musical in its entirety threatened to offend the pride of the snotty-nosed Prague gentry.
Unlike Tyl, Strakatý obviously understood Škroup’s original intention, and used his powerful and resounding voice to release the hidden ability of the melody to add meaning and potency to the song’s simple words. Not only did he put his whole heart into the song from the very beginning, but he also sang it whenever he had the opportunity to do so. So it didn’t take too long before both the words and melody caught on among the burgeoning ranks of Czech revivalists.
In contrast to other revivalist musicians and performers, Strakatý had a certain advantage in that he had practically no serious competition during his professional career in Prague. His exquisite voice brought him fame throughout Central Europe, and prominent operas in Berlin, Dresden, and Vienna repeatedly tried to lure him away from Prague. Despite his fervent Czech patriotism, he was simply too good to be ousted by career-minded, albeit less competent, conformists. Unlike both Tyl and Škroup, Strakatý enjoyed popularity and appreciation right up until his death at the age of 64. Fifty years later, the first verse of the song he had made so popular became the first part of the Czechoslovak anthem.
Strakatý was lucky not only because he had a magnificent singing voice, but also because he was born in the rather beautiful South Bohemian town of Blatná. Today, the house where he was born bears a plaque informing passers-by of this fact. That fact by itself, however, would not be enough to attract people to the town. However, strakatý in Czech means spotted or piebald, and that also applies to the summer coat of the local, exceedingly friendly, fallow deer, who happen to live on the grounds of Blatná’s very impressive castle. So that is more than good reason (especially for the kids and elderly infantiles like me) to visit Blatná.
And, while you are there, maybe you will also lend a thought to the man most responsible for the fact that today the Czechs have an anthem that has everything an anthem should have – it is simple, moving, and, if need be, rather compelling.
– František Havran
Photo Credits: František Havran