Traditional popular music (1800 – 1918)

Until the beginning of the 19th century, music in Europe was in broad terms understood as spiritual and secular music because the position and influence of Christian churches was strong. Spiritual music was used during liturgy and on the occasion of religious holidays. Secular music is subdivided into artificial and folk music. Artificial or more exactly art music was maintained in larger towns and on mansions in Slovakia mostly by the nobility. At the beginning of the 19th century social significance and the economic power of the middle classes in cities was growing. This accelerated the democratization process as well as cultural transformations in each of the monarchies. An emerging social class of wealthy townspeople demanded their “own culture” and “own music” that would reflect their lifestyle and expressed the sorrows and joys of their everyday life, that would bring enjoyment, entertainment and learning. Popular music started to arise. It consisted of lighter genres:

    1) Higher popular (instrumental and vocal music) – arias, operas, operettas, vaudeville, singspiels, opera overtures, melodic and easy to remember parts of chamber and symphonic works, dance suites and stylized dances,
    2) Social and folk song (vocal music) – folk, half-folk (“stylized”), broadside song, couplet, dance song in the beat of polka, waltz, quadrille, verbunk and czardas, march, chorus and spiritual song.

The aforementioned music styles and genres were interpreted in less demanding arrangements for choirs, brass and parlour orchestras, small orchestras and chamber associations. Roma bands with violin and cimbalom players as well as primates (Balogh, Berky, Banyak, Olah, Szarkozy, Czinka Panna, Josef Pito and others) produced the specific genre of ”New Hungarian song (novouhorská pieseň)”. The places where popular music was spread were not just temples and aristocratic residences, but also parks and squares, where the military brass bands performed at promenade concerts; salon orchestras in restaurants and spas; and schraml bands, the quartet composed of two violins, clarinet or accordion and a guitar, on the street and in pubs. Popular music became irreplaceable also in home and family music-making. Political and cultural capitals in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy had been Vienna and Budapest for a long time. The geographical location of these two major cities also affected the cultural life of Bratislava, Košice or not very far Prešov. However, the rich mining towns in the Spiš region like Kremnica, Banská Štiavnica and Banská Bystrica with great cultural tradition did not fall behind. According to the example of the English music hall, French cabaret, chantan, and café-concert, German tingl-tangl and later due to political changes and the American minstrel show there arose in those cities in Slovakia special stages with a rich variety of shows. Here kinds of songs as chanson and satirical song were born; American dances tango and foxtrot were domesticated. The satirical song plays an irreplaceable role in years of fascist dictatorship during the Second World War and the protest song after 1948 in the former Czechoslovakia, in which cabaret actors and musicians slyly criticize the totality on small theatre stages, even in the media.

The roots of brass band music date back to orchestras known as Janissaries or Turkish military orchestra with percussion (large and small drum, cymbals) and chimes. After the technical improvements of wind instruments in the 1820s brass orchestras were fully able to substitute any possible unit in small or large ensembles even in ensembles with more than 50 members as far as sonic features and instrument variety are concerned, not forgetting concepts of the repertoire that were very versatile. It included regular marches, dance transcriptions, adjusted chamber and symphonic works, opera overtures, dance suites and later also songs of modern popular and jazz music. Brass bands participated in the cultural development of towns and villages too. Orchestra conductors were often composers and arrangers, organisers of the social life in the region and officials in the municipality. Following the example of the military brass bands there originated also railway, fire-fighting, mining and village brass bands that enjoy long tradition and are still very popular in the regions. Until the rise of the first Czechoslovak Republic the influence of the Austrian brass band music was strong. From 1918 there were still more and more bandleaders and music teachers from Bohemia and Moravia. The core repertoire of Slovak brass bands consisted of famous works of Czech composers and conductors of military and civilian (Sokol) music bands. However, the brass band music reaches its development peak after the establishment of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, because the then political power played an important role in its development as it considered brass music to be a cultural and national idiom or even military matter.

On the other hand, it is important to emphasise the importance of brass band music for the development of culture in all regions. Every bigger village had its own brass band established by firefighters, railway workers, soldiers, policemen and civilians. Especially in the 1950s and 1960s many brass bands were established across the country. The curiosity of the 1960s was the boom of youth brass bands, which often had a high artistic level and reaped trophies in international competitions. An inseparable component of cultural life in Slovakia is the choirs, which also produced many young musicians and singers.
Children, student, female and male choirs as well as vocal groupings “a capella” have accompanied us for many years at various cultural events, school festivals, festivals, competitions, independent concerts and in the liturgy. From enthusiastic “venček groups” (i.e. hobby singing choirs) that were performing folk songs or “party songs” of the 19th century different internationally recognised groups developed. Their repertoire was rich, from folk or classical music up to gospel songs (e.g. in the recent vocal group Fragile).
Finally, we should mention the activities of professional and amateur salon orchestras with a small number of members, whose repertoire similarly consisted of higher pop music, dance stylizations and folk songs. From their interpretations this area got its standard name “dance music”. They performed in the hotel restaurants and spas (hence the German name “Kurorchester”), but also at various festivals and dance festivals similarly to brass and dulcimer bands.
Concerning artistically more demanding genres of popular music of the 19th and 20th centuries a strong position was won by operetta. Its boom occurred in the 1860s and it started, in the same way as previous musical genres, with the rise of popular music and “culture” of the urban population. The domestic creation of new operettas in Slovakia was initially rather sporadic. Nevertheless, there are numerous, high quality composers who we could rank among the pioneers of “Slovak operetta” i.e. operetta, whose libretto is written in Slovak (Rudolf Adamy (1847-1917), Miloslav Francisci (1854-1926) and Albert Walla (1873 -?).