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Forward-thinking composers helped revive Czech culture

The music of Antonín Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana - which will also be played by the Czech Philharmonic at Joshua Bell's Abu Dhabi debut - is proof that great art doesn't always come out of famous cultural hot spots.

The music of Antonín Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana - which will also be played by the Czech Philharmonic at Joshua Bell's Abu Dhabi debut - is proof that great art doesn't always come out of famous cultural hot spots.

Before the two composers arrived on the international scene in the late 19th century, few people would have believed that a cultural backwater such as their homeland of Bohemia would produce some of the best-loved classical music ever. Still under the thumb of Austria both politically and artistically, the region (which later became the Czech Republic) was in danger of losing its local language, Czech, to German in polite society.

It's only natural, then, that Dvorak and Smetana turned to their country's relatively untouched peasant traditions for inspiration. Their music was as sophisticated and lushly orchestrated as that of their Austrian counterparts, but the pair's adaptation of folk melodies and rhythms picked up in Czech villages gives it vigour and drive that's still irresistible today.

While creating a new, confident national idiom for the Czechs, they also gave serious music a shot in the arm, with pieces such as Smetana's Ma Vlast (My Homeland, also being played on Friday) creating unusually vivid musical pictures.

Always forward looking - Dvorak, for example, was among the first authorities to note that black music traditions would shape America's cultural future - the pair's music reminds us that truly groundbreaking art often happens on the cultural fringes.

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