Do you have Czech ancestors or other relatives or even friends or neighbors who speak Czech? Next, does their descendants have very old recordings of Czech (or often called “Bohemian”) recorded music? The older the recordings, the better. If so, Filip Šír from the National Museum in Prague would like to speak with them. Šír has been searching for the lost recordings and the stories of the people behind them.
Few people in the Czech Republic know that a significant chapter in the history of early Czech sound recordings was written by Czech immigrants in the United States.
Filip Šír said:
“Between the years 1900 and 1929, there wasn’t any Czech record label company. In 1929 and 1930, Esta and Ultraphone were established as Czechoslovakian record label companies. However, this is almost 30 years after the first recordings in the United States.
“Another problem with the Czech recordings produced by big Austro-Hungarian companies, such as Gramophone and his Masters Voice, was that they were in fact produced in Berlin and Vienna.
“Some of those companies would send their sound engineers to Prague or Brno, but they only did a very small number of records.
“Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the ocean, in the United States, they started very early with the so-called ethnic recordings.”
The ethnic recordings were intended for the growing immigrant communities in the United States, including the Czech minority. The Czech records were usually described as Bohemian and the scale of their production was quite impressive.
For instance, between the years 1900 and 1930, there were actually more recordings made by Czech musicians in the United States for Czech-language audiences than there were in the Czech lands for the much larger Czech population. According to Filip Šír, a large part of the wax cylinders and disc records with early Czech sound recordings have been lost forever, and with them, part of our country’s history. On the other hand, many of them are still waiting to be discovered in archives and libraries, but also in ordinary people’s homes on both sides of the Atlantic.
You can read more in an article by Ruth Fraňková in the Czech Radio web site at: https://tinyurl.com/eogn190919a.