The Habsburgs and Czech culture

At the time, the Czech Republic was part of the Habsburg Empire. The Emperor Franz Josef was the absolute monarch. Vienna being the main cultural centre, German was the accepted language; indeed Czech culture was suppressed. However, on 20th October 1860 the Emperor issued a decree that absolutism would be abolished; from now on the Czech language and culture should no longer be suppressed.

There was an immediate move to build a new, specifically Czech National Theatre in Prague.  When it opened, strangely, given its association with the upsurge in Czech culture, the repertoire of the theatre was entirely German, French and Italian – until 1867.  In that year Smetana became the theatre’s principal conductor.  He insisted that Slavic composers’ work be strongly represented – so composers such as Glinka, Smetana himself, and later Dvorak and Janacek, became core repertoire of the theatre.

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