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toroddfuglesteg View Drop Down
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    Posted: March 01 2011 at 15:11

Collegium Musicum from Slovakia is not one of the biggest and most popular bands here in ProgArchives. But for those in the know, this band is rated very highly and on par with Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Unfortunate, the iron curtain and the cold war meant ELP became a multi million seller while Collegium Musicum had to deal with the problems of a dictatorship. But they still became the biggest and arguable the best prog band behind the iron curtain. 

Marian Varga was the driving force in Collegium Musicum. He is by all means a living legend. It makes me immense proud to publish this exclusive interview, one of very few interviews Marian Varga has ever done. 

Enjoy the read. 


What is your personal background and your musical background, Marian?

I was born in a technocratic family. My mom was a math teacher and my father was civil engineer. Only my mom´s brother was interested in music. He was a doctor but he graduated on a music conservatory. We had a piano in a family and every time my uncle came to visit us, he used to play jazz. I was looking for his visits and I was trying to repeat what he played. In these days I was too small to reach the clavier (fingerboard). When my mom realized that the music fascinates me, she took me to her friend teacher, that time reputable and acknowledged composer Ján Cikker. I used to visit his classes for seven years and in same time also basic art school. In that time I started to play hookey (skip school). My piano teacher wrote a complain letters to my parents and then she started to visit me at home. She was a great teacher. She didn’t press me in studying annoying etudes but she wanted me to play Debussy, Chopin, Bartók and Janáček. I was surprised. When I started to study conservatory I was well prepared not only in playing piano but also as a composer. That just wasn’t very good for adolescent. I used to skip school, smoke and was rude to my communist teachers. They finally threw me out from school after three years of study. That was in 1965 and political times became better.
We weren’t that much ablated from outside and from western countries. We used to listen to the Radio Luxembourg and we loved newest hits from Beatles, Hollies, Who, Kinks…Sometimes some of us sneaked out some LPs from west and we all used to handle it. My uncle brought me Brubeck´s music and that was a find to me. Although he was a jazzman, he was Milhaud´s and Schonberg´s student. By this way I got from Bartók, Stravinskij to rock. That music was spontaneous, free and though its simplicity it wasn’t stupid in any way. In every garage there was some band and I also was in a one called Prúdy. I thought I might try playing this music and then I see what happens. I didn’t burn bridges; I didn’t want to be a rock musician forever.

When, where and by whom was Collegium Musicum set up? The band name seems universal and easy explained, but which bands were you influenced by?

I used to play with Prúdy about two years and developed a band leader status. We made album Zvonte zvonky in 1969. If we made that album one year later, we would be able to publish it because the censorship wouldn’t let that happen. Our text writer escaped to the west after the occupation in 1969 and started to work in Radio Free Europe. For all the 20 years the album was on the list. Critics brand this album today as the most important album in Slovak rock history. In that time we break the band and I started working in theatre as a music dramaturge. My theatre office began to change to studio for a new band to practice. From Prúdy me, base player Fedor Frešo and drummer Dušan Hájek moved to start a new band called Collegium Musicum. I left Prúdy also because I wanted to work with bigger and more complicated instrumental parts. I founded inspiration and courage for this in Emerson´s the Nice and ELP. In 1970 we made a first single and short time after that also first LP with adaptation of Haydn´s Concerto in D.

This was straight after the failed Prague uprising and the hardline Stalinists had taken power again in Czechoslovakia. How was it to run Collegium Musicum during those politically frosty times?

Yes, in that moment the cage felt and we couldn’t get out even for a day and we started to choke. It was a slow process. Time showed that in catholic Slovakia we had a soft version of Czech conditions. We were persecuted for our ideas and believes and also for our visage, long hair look. But most of time we were quietly tolerated. We were also lucky that culture minister Miroslav Válek was our big fan.
We played music with no text and words so we couldn’t be accused for heckling. That was our advantage. We had a crowd behind us and there was a sort of hysteria around us. They let us concert in socialistic states and we were a good export article. In some way we were something that communists could point in and say – there is a liberty of speech.
In fact we were something they didn’t like and didn’t want to support. When I started to work on my own projects, I started to feel restrictions.

This is an archive based interview also intended for the fans you get well after both you and I have passed away so let's go straight to your albums. Please give us your long or brief views on your albums, starting with:
Zvoňte zvonky from 1969

This is first album I composed and recorded. From 12 songs 9 of them are mine, 3 were composed by the singer Pavol Hammel. I wanted to give diversity, brightness and also contrast to the album so I looked for a spot for violin quartet, wood-wind quintet, also for a Dixieland, waltz, and folklore and mainly rock of course. I wanted to use original Slovak texts and that was in that time a brave step.
By this we were different from other Slovak bands that though Slovak language can’t be used with rock music. This album wasn’t made as a planned project. We were recording the songs in Slovak sound broadcasting studio and at the end of this procedure we had more songs that we could use on the LP so we had to decide about final songs. We didn’t use some recorded songs to the LP because the stoppage and most of these were published on the next album Zelená pošta from 1972, which Collegium musicum basically recorded. I endorse both of these albums.

Collegium Musicum from 1970

After the first singles as Collegium Musicum we produced an eponymous LP in Prague – Suprahon label. This LP contains three songs that we used to play at our first gigs. On the record we used wood-wind section as well as symphony orchestra. Although I supported and voted for Slovak language in Prúdy, two of three songs on this CM LP were English. Many of those words in those songs are hard to understand. I wanted to point out that human voice was just another instrument for me and I wanted to point out the instrumental character of my music.
About Concerto in D from Haydn – I just didn’t have any other idea, so I took Haydn´s theme. But how much of it is Haydn and how much me? From the original concert there are only few times and they are not in the original order. It was improvisation and gradually I find out how to play independently from the original, how to use the material completely by myself.
It was best to me and I used to not to play from the notes (sheets of music). It was better to play from my mind. Album have many child diseases, there are many long solos that makes the songs not comprehensive. That is a result of gig playing where we could afford that.

Konvergencie from 1971

According to my opinion Konvergencie is best album of CM. For sides of this double album are for sides of the same coin. These were the roads that we wanted to make as CM. It is variant album with child choir, transformation of classic pattern, songs and also electronic improvisation music. Name of the album liberates from clear-cut image and predicates that we wanted to interpret our searching and our feeling from it. It is about approximate to the ideal that you have in your mind but when you think you can reach it you find out that it is still so far away.
There are some conceptions of crossings the genres that stand side by side to one imaginary spot. We were recording the album in Experimental electroacoustic studio with a small public. The song Šeherezáda was recorded live as a concert show. Hammond organ in song Piesně z kolovrátku was recorded in Bratislava club – Reduta. In Euforia I tried how far can I go with the communication with the instrument. I tried limits of Hammond and piano.

Continuo from 1978

Bad. Las years of Collegium were in token of comebacks. But when the old Collegium got together with Frešo and Hájek, there were many disillusions. We thought that we meet and everything will be good but each of us at that time was somewhere else in our ideas.
Every band has better and worse moments. These comebacks are sometimes successful and sometimes not. On this album you can see that long solos are far away from that times feeling. This type of music had its limits and had to end somewhere.

On A Ona from 1979

Very bad album. I drank a lot and I didn’t believe in myself. Except the song Amata nobis it has nothing in common with Collegium Musicum.

Divergencie from 1981

When we recorded this album it was extremely hot summer and I started to panic. I composed Christmas suite and I dint know if to buy a Christmas tree to get in the right mood.
14 parts of suite P.F (1982, 1983…) with a violin quartet and wood-wind quintet makes five singed songs with a child choir and two vocalists and instrumental parts. With Moyzes quartet (violin quartet from Slovakia) that hosts in this album I also recorded another album called Marián Varga and Moyzes quartet. Musica Concertante is five parts Neoclassicist concert with artificial structure and unorthodox order. Another side is made by Refrén, with improvisations and ten minutes of duet of piano and synths with acoustic guitar of Prague host Luboš Andršt, musician with great adaptability. Interludes show my movement to improvised music that I play from this album to this day. Forth part of album is song based.
Divergencie can be understood as more points of view on the same object. On all of the four sides is me but from another angle. It is almost my solo projet but under the heading of Collegium musicum, that actually didn’t almost exist in that time.

How was the distribution of your albums to the west and to the east of the iron curtain during those days?

To be honest, I have no idea about that. I know that nowadays there are on-line shops and likely they are ordering something, because I am getting feed-backs from distant lands like Japan, the USA or Brazil.

Just out of curiosity. You have been compared a lot to the great western musicians like Rick Wakeman and in particular; Keith Emerson. Have you had any personal contacts with them since the fall of the iron curtain?

No, I don´t have any personal contact with neither of them and I doubt anybody knows that some Varga exists.

There is also a lot of Collegium Musicum live albums of whom both the Collegium Musicum Live album from 1973 and the Marián Varga & Collegium Musicum album from 1975 is highly recommended. But you have just (some months ago, that is) released a new live album (CD/DVD) called Speak, Memory. Please tell us more about this album and if you can; the two above mentioned live albums too.

Collegium musicum Live is in the history of the band the most instrumental and a little bit narcissistically focused on technic, but it doesn´t cause such a catharsis in the details neither as a whole like Konvergencie. As a composer I denied my own personality which, I think, I haven´t managed in my song production. I am satisfied (but also just partially) only with the song Si nemožná. After Konvergence it is a step back. It is here where the end of Collegium in an original formation begins. You can feel the fatigue of constant playing (between 1972 and 1974 we had 250 concerts a year) and also, it is all somehow exhibitionistic.
Marián Varga and Collegium musicum. Even though they say, that this album is comparable with anything that was produced at this time in the sphere of proressive rock, I was forced to record it by the publisher. It wasn´t caused by any overpressure of creativity. I had an enormous personal crisis related to alcoholism. We were playing all the time. We played a lot in DDR, sometimes we had even three concerts a day. I was surrounded by young musicians, who gave me new energy. On the album there is an adaptation of two of the Six dances in the bulgarian rythm from Bartók´s Mikrokosmos, Preludium C dur by Prokofiev and a part of his ballet Romeo and Juliet and also an adaptation of the second piano preludium by Serocky. The part of the album is also Hudba k vodometu- a tribute to Ravel´s Jeux d éau and a long composition called Long Live Man. We recorded the album all at once (like on a concert), we did only two or three corrections.
Speak Memory is a record of a concert we played two years ago. In this time I began to concert again with my band. I´m not a big fan of the comebacks of old bands. The audience loves these comebacks, they are even forcing the bands to it. It´s because people love ilussions. But for me the ilussion is a little bit false. It seems to me like if they were trying to buy a ticket back to their youth while experiencing a comeback of the band from the time of their adolescence. The exception are those who visit our concerts because of Martin Valiora- our drummer, who is more than one generation younger than the rest of us. So, Speak Memory is about remembering old days.

How was the creative processes in Collegium Musicum from coming up with an idea to commiting it onto an album?

In our case it was a flying start. In the Divadelné štúdio (Theatre studio) where we had meetings we rehearsed during short time a program for a concert. The important parts of songs were created during our jam sessions. We were evolving and enriching our songs later even directly during the concerts. We had our first concert on 17.3. 1970 in university club in Bratislava. The concert was shocking. Two days later we took part in Jazzuniverziáda in the Czech Republic and we won. In may we sold out Radiopalác in Prague. The Czechs who were used to another music, were amazed. This concert was a turning point. The managers were fighting to get us. Soon we had a tour in Poland. In July we made a change on a post of the guitarist and in the same month we recorded a single with him. Unfortunately he appeared to be a weak part of the band so we decided to take back Rasťo Vacho. The concerts were great and the top is definitely not what was recorded. In September we played on the festival Jazz Jamboree. Miles Davis took part in this festival too. In October we recorded our first LP in Prague.

How is the current availability of all your albums and is there any plans to release any more albums under the Collegium Musicum name?

I think that all of our albums are now available. Several reeditions of our albums were released. We haven´t reestablished Collegium as a creative project. More likely we are a travelling museum. We are playing only our old repertoire. Collegium is a closed project for me. All members of the band, including me, participate in some other music projects.

Do you still do concerts now and what are your plans for this year and beyond?

I don´t make plans any more. I never did and now it´s not possible on principle. During the forthcoming months we are going to play in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. We are playing in London in May.

To wrap up this interview, I would like to tell you that you are loved, admired and highly appreciated in the progressive rock community. I therefore want to thank you for your music and everything you have given to us throughout your long life. But I will give you the last word in this interview. Is there anything you want to add to this interview?

I regret that in the times when we were young and on the top, we didn´t have the opportunity to face ourselves with the bands abroad. It´s a pity, because only in a healthy competition one can grow and mature. It is a pleasant surprise for me that even after 40 years our music still address someone behind the borders of our homeland.
A big thank you to Marian Varga for this interview.
A special thank you to David Gaydecka & Michael Šimon who arranged this interview
Their PA profile is here and their homepage's here.
For those who want to try out this band; start with their very impressive Collegium Musicum Live album.

Edited by toroddfuglesteg - March 07 2011 at 23:48
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 01 2011 at 17:53
Excellent interview!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 01 2011 at 18:16
Wow, impressive hit, Torodd. And an excellent interview. Gotta love that honesty, even if it's a bit surprising at first. 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 01 2011 at 21:19
Thanks, great interview.
Who are you and who am I to say we know the reason why... (D. Gilmour)
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 01 2011 at 23:17
I have discovered them o PA and now they are one of my fav bands. it's a great interview made of intelligent questions.
Very well done.
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