The Sokol Slets

Follow this link for a more thorough explanation of the Czech Sokol society Slets, as discussed in A Year in Classical Music: 1926, vol. 8:

sokolusachicago.com/HistoryoftheSokolslet.pdf

This short essay answers a question the Slets might raise in the minds of those unfamiliar with Czech culture: how could gymnastics festivals have functioned as major cultural events? As Bednar and Sivak put it, “To the Sokols, [the Slets] are as significant as the Olympic games were to the ancient Hellenes.” Think of the immense cutural importance of the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Final Four to American culture, and it is suddenly much less difficult to understand how a Czech gymnastics festival could have become foundational to Czech culture — and to Czech music history. Composers such as Dvořák, Janáček, and Martinů would have recognized the embodiment of their cultural identity through the Sokol festivals just as Glass and Marsalis recognize theirs in our great athletic festivals. (I know that Wynton Marsalis understands this, at least… I can’t speak for Philip Glass.) I sought to convey all of this in my last blog post, “Joe Paterno and Sports as Art.”

Leoš Janáček joined the Sokol society in 1876, when he was 22. He remained active in the Sokol and committed to its ideals for the rest of his life, and he composed several works for the Slets. For the 1895 festival he wrote accompaniments to the exercises; this score was eventually orchestrated by Josef Kozlík and performed under the title Quadrille. After composing the Sokol Fanfare that opens his Sinfonietta of 1926, Janáček intended to write a study on composing music accompaniments for mass calisthenic exercises; he did not live to realize this ambition, as he died in 1928.

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