Bratislava, Slovakia – Not every year can we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the breakthrough album that radically changed Slovakia’s local music scene.
But it’s already been half a century since Konvergencie, the most significant album released by legendary act Collegium Musicum came out.
Recorded in the studio of Czechoslovak Radio in September and October 1971, now seems like a perfect opportunity to commemorate this masterpiece which, like a fine aging wine, proves its artistic and creative relevance with each listen. After all, albums that remain loved and revered among alternative music listeners this long do call for a special appreciation.
Collegium Musicum truly stormed the musical scene like a lightning from a blue sky, gathering prominent names of Slovak big beat: Marián Varga, the Hammond organ player and mastermind of the band, Fedor Frešo, the bassist, the drummer Dušan Hájek and, finally, arguably one of the most prolific guitar players of that time, František Griglák, also active in bands like Prúdy and Fermata. But how did it all began?
It all came down the Streams
A rather long and thorny road preceded the formation of Collegium Musicum, at the beginning of which we find a young and rebellious Marián Varga – musical college dropout with basics in classical music education, not a very well-adjusted member of society, to say the least.
Everything started to change the day he met Vladimír Kaššay, a bass player in the band Pŕudy (Streams). I can easily be argued that Prúdy was not just a band, but an academy and stepping stone for the talents of tomorrow and the upcoming musical scene, revolving around its founder Pavol Hammel (a singer who collaborated with Collegium Musicum), and where members of Collegium Musicum started their journey.
But how did this improbable batch of musicians came to forming a band? Fronted by Hammond organ player Marián Varga, who knew nothing about the big beat movement, locked in constraints of classical music; followed by the drummer with a notable jazz/swing touch and a jazz-rock influenced bassist, Collegium Musicum was predestined to stand outside the box.
This compound of musical influences is surely a key aspect of what granted the band its unique essence, which crystalized 50 years ago with their second album Konvergencie – a musical feat that would set the bar for alternative music a bit too high for years to come.
Breaking the conformity
Needless to say, big beat in itself was a musical movement that refused to capitulate to the uniformizing cultural policy of Czechoslovak authorities of that time. Surrounded by what’s also known as soc-pop, liable to the aesthetic sterility of the regime, big beat brought a waft of fresh air, influenced mainly by Western artists and musicians.
But Collegium Musicum went even further than their peers in breaking the genre rules. Mostly instrumental, not seldom dissonant, influenced by classical composers, it can best be described as the jazz-rock canvas on which the Hammond organ redefines the conventional way of perceiving the melody. Staying clear from political topics, and helped by the fact Varga’s artistry was appreciated by then Minister of Culture Miroslav Válek, Collegium Musicum was allowed to experiment and develop their untraditional sound to unlimited extent.
Marián Varga eventually pushed his playing beyond the frontier where cacophony becomes the pivotal aspect of the melody line, while still having smooth, easy-listens up his sleeve. His style of playing remained so unique that, even just a few seconds into a song, one can surely tell it’s him. Although Marián Varga is known for his highly critical attitude toward his music, Konvergencie is the album he considered most important for Collegium Musicum, and where the band defined its musical and artistic direction.
Unfortunately, inner disputes and Varga’s personal turbulences led the band shortly after into mediocrity, then into break-up. Bad chemistry, both figuratively and literally, considering Varga’s passion for heavy drinking. Konvergencie, among others, nevertheless will always remain to preserve their legacy, and until this day tell us much more than what Varga the rebel could otherwise have been able to put into words.
By Pavel Šoral