Zdeněk Nejedlý

Zdeněk Nejedlý (February 10, 1878 in Litomyšl, Bohemia – March 9, 1962 in Prague) was a Czech musicologist, music critic, author, and politician whose ideas dominated the cultural life of what is now the Czech Republic for most of the twentieth century. Although he started out merely reviewing operas in Prague newspapers in 1901, by the interwar period his status had risen, guided primarily by socialist political views. This combination of left wing politics and cultural leadership made him a central figure in the early years of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic after 1948, where he became the first Minister of Culture and Education. In this position he was responsible for creating a statewide education curriculum, and was associated with the early 1950s expulsion of university professors.[1]

Zdeněk Nejedlý
Zdeněk Nejedlý (1878–1962) 1927 © Georg Fayer (1891–1950) OeNB 10454041.jpg
Zdeněk Nejedlý in March, 1927.
Minister of Culture and Education
In office
5 April 1945 – 2 July 1946
Preceded byEmanuel Moravec
Succeeded byJaroslav Stránský
In office
25 February 1948 – 31 January 1953
Preceded byJaroslav Stránský
Succeeded byErnest Sýkora
Personal details
Born(1878-02-10)10 February 1878
Litomyšl, Kingdom of Bohemia, Austria-Hungary
Died9 March 1962(1962-03-09) (aged 84)
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Political partyCommunist Party
Spouse(s)Marie Brichtová
Alma materFaculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague
Zdeněk Nejedlý in 1905.


Early Life and CareerEdit

Son of the East Bohemian composer and pedagogue Roman Nejedlý (1844–1920), Zdeněk Nejedlý had the good fortune to be born in Litomyšl, the historic birthplace of the composer Bedřich Smetana, the so-called "Father of Czech music" and a significant figurehead in the Czechs' nineteenth-century National Revival movement. His formal education in music began with Josef Šťastný at the Litomyšl Gymnasium (1888–1896), alongside instruction in Czech history.[2] In 1896 he moved to Prague to study at Charles University, where he attended lectures in positivist history with Jaroslav Goll and music aesthetics with Otakar Hostinský, finally receiving his doctorate in 1900. Hostinský, a great proponent of Smetana's music, suggested that Nejedlý study composition and music theory with his like-minded colleague, Zdeněk Fibich, whose personality and tastes had a profound effect on his young student. Although his first publications were devoted to Czech history, after Fibich's death in 1900 Nejedlý devoted himself to musicology, authoring a monograph entitled Zdenko Fibich, Founder of the Scenic Melodrama in 1901 as a first attempt at gaining greater recognition for his mentor. That these efforts were directed against the musical establishment of Prague (who he felt had victimized Smetana, Fibich, and Hostinský) was made clear by his first foray into music criticism that same year, in an attack on Antonín Dvořák's opera Rusalka shortly after its premiere.

These factional divisions were to inspire Nejedlý throughout his whole career; in many ways he was personally responsible for perpetuating them for future generations, long after their currency in Czech musical society.[3] His 1903 History of Czech Music drew distinct battle lines between the Conservatory students of Dvořák and the supposed inheritors of Smetana, including the composers Josef Bohuslav Foerster, Otakar Ostrčil, and Otakar Zich, all personal friends of Nejedlý's on the outs with the Prague establishment. Over the next decade he produced an extraordinary amount of writing on music, including monographs on pre-Hussite song (1904, 1907, and 1913), Smetana's operas 1908, Czech Modern Opera Since Smetana (1911, notoriously excluding Dvořák), Hostinský (1907 and 1910), and Gustav Mahler (1913). In 1908 he began to lecture in musicology at Charles University, forming a circle of devoted young colleagues that included Zich and Vladimír Helfert.

Polemics and the Interwar YearsEdit

When Nejedlý's music reviews for Prague's daily newspapers grew distasteful in their anti-Conservatory bias, he and his followers were precipitously banned from publication, forcing the group to found their own journal, Smetana, which ran for sixteen years, 1910–1927. From this vantage point Nejedlý launched the so-called "Dvořák Affair" (1911–1914), in which he sought to attack the legacy of the great composer; any contemporary artists who sided against him (especially the 31 musicians who signed a public petition in 1912) became the focus of fierce personal attacks. Beginning with Vítězslav Novák in 1913, Nejedlý sought to end the careers of composers who did not conform to his pro-Smetana views of modern tradition and social responsibility: other notable targets included Josef Suk. Meanwhile, these tactics came back to haunt Nejedlý's own protégés, especially Ostrčil as director of Prague's National Theatre and Zich as a modernist opera composer.

After the legalization of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1921, Nejedlý became one of its earliest and most outspoken members. With the exception of his Smetana journal, he turned away from mainstream journal publications, focusing on the Communist daily Rudé právo and his own political journal, Var (Boiling, 1921–30). In these he chastised the interwar Czechoslovak Republic, its president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, and various other leaders; the last issue of Var was taken up with a detailed defense of Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck, which Ostrčil had produced in 1926. By this point, however, his many musicology students were among the main critics in Prague, carrying on his work on his behalf. After the close of Var, his main involvements in music included a short polemic with Novák and monographs on Ostrčil (1935, to commemorate his friend's death), the National Theatre (1936), and Soviet music (1937).

Wartime and Postwar CommunismEdit

During the Nazi occupation of the Czech Lands, the Nejedlý family fled to the Soviet Union, where he supposedly helped Czech resistance activities from afar.[4] At this time, his son Vít Nejedlý (1912–45), whose short career in Prague had focused on Communist agitprop pieces and workers' choruses, was involved with a Czech brigade attached to the Red Army, whose band he attempted to emulate. After the end of the war (and Vít's death of typhus after the battle of Dukla, January 1945), Zdeněk Nejedlý returned to Prague to participate in the postwar government. Initially in Eduard Beneš's Third Republic he was made Minister of Education, Arts, and Sciences, but this was exchanged for Social Security by 1946. After the Communist seizure of power (the “February Revolution”) in 1948 he returned to Culture and Education with enhanced powers, a post he kept until 1953. These crucial years saw the implementation of a statewide curriculum at all levels of education: his revisionist stance toward Czech history was given the force of law. This included down-playing the achievements of the vanished democracy as a series of bourgeois trends that were ultimately damaging to society. It was also Nejedlý's chance to promote his passion for Smetana and his "lineage", now enacted as state law. To this latter end he entered a new stage of retrospective publishing, with works like The History of My Smetanism, On Czech Culture, and especially The Communists—Inheritors of the Grand Progressive Tradition of the Czech Nation. These works and especially their ideology were retained, in some form or another, in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic all the way until the fall of Communism (the “Velvet Revolution”) in 1989. As such, Nejedlý's name was associated with totalitarian hegemony by at least two generations of students, many of whom had no connection to his musicology.

The Show Trials and Josef HutterEdit

After approximately two years of Communist dictatorship, the Czechoslovak Communist Party began a purge of its own party or former non-communist opponents, most notoriously manifested in the arrest and execution of Rudolf Slánský and Milada Horáková. For Nejedlý, this atmosphere provided an opportunity to settle old scores in the academic and musical community. Over ten years before, in the mid-1930s, Nejedlý's public attacks against artists such as Leoš Janáček had turned many of his former adherents against him, most notably Vladimír Helfert, whose work as a musicologist had outstripped his teacher's, and Josef Hutter, who had published on Ostrčil and Zich. When Helfert published a landmark monograph, Czech Modern Music: A Study of Czech Musical Creativity (1936) that included a scathing attack on ideological bias in music criticism, Nejedlý expected his remaining followers to shun Helfert and condemn the publication. Hutter publicly sided with Helfert. During the Nazi occupation, both men were imprisoned by the Nazis: Helfert for Communist resistance (for which he was severely tortured, dying in May, 1945) and Hutter for pro-Democratic resistance. After the war, Hutter returned to Charles University, but was expelled in 1950 and arrested on trumped-up charges. He was sentenced to thirty-nine years imprisonment, but served only six, having been released during an amnesty. His health broken, Hutter died in 1959, three years before his former teacher.

Zdeněk Nejedlý died on March 9, 1962, and was buried in the Vyšehrad cemetery at Prague's Vyšehrad castle, reserved for Czech heroes and significant representatives of Czech culture. His grave is near those of Smetana, Ostrčil, and his son, Vít.

Further readingEdit

  • Červinka, František. Zdeněk Nejedlý [Cz.]. Prague: Melantrich, 1969.
  • Křesťan, Jiří. "'Poslední husita' odchází: Zdeněk Nejedlý v osidlech kulturní politiky KSČ po roce 1945" ["'The Last Hussite' Departs: Zdeněk Nejedlý in the Snares of the Cultural Politics of the Czechoslovak Communist Party after 1945"] Soudobé dějiny xii/1 (2005): 9-44.
  • Křesťan, Jiří. "Srdce Václava Talicha se ztratilo: k problému národní očisty" ["Václav Talich Has Lost {His} Heart: On the Purging of the Nation"]. Soudobé dějiny xvi/1, 2-3 (2009): 69-111; 243–275.
  • Svatos, Thomas D. "A Clash over Julietta: the Martinů/Nejedlý Political Conflict and Twentieth-Century Czech Critical Culture." ex tempore xiv/2, Spring/Summer (2009): 1-41.
  • Zdeněk Nejedlý at Find a Grave  


  1. ^ Brian S. Locke, Opera and Ideology in Prague: Polemics and Practice at the National Theatre, 1900-1938, Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell and Brewer, 2006
  2. ^ Československý hudební slovník, vol. 2 (Prague: Statní hudební vydavatelství, 1965)
  3. ^ Brian S. Locke, Opera and Ideology in Prague
  4. ^ Československý hudební slovník