What does “Bohemian” really mean?

The upcoming Mansfield Symphony Orchestra concert on September 21, 2019 is called “Bohemian Souls.” The definition of a Bohemian is “[one who is] socially unconventional in an artistic way.” Dvorak who was actually from Bohemia defines this. Tchaikovsky and his tumultuous life define this. Missy Mazolli who is breaking all of the rules in the composition world defines this. At this concert, you will hear TONS of Bohemian sounds.

But, the word Bohemian does not necessarily bring up sound. When I think of being a Bohemian, I want to wear loud prints, wear gaudy jewelry, and drink cheap wine in a dive bar in Brooklyn. But, why?  What makes the word Bohemian define such a visual?

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I went to Google and typed in the Word Bohemian…these are the visuals from a screenshot.

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So, I typed in the words Bohemian lifestyle, and this is what I got:

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Hmmm….clearly I am not the only one with that same visual of a Bohemian swimming around in their noggin – (Google does do its homework).  Why are the visuals all the same?

From Wikipedia.org, the origins of the word “Bohemia” derives from the name of the Boii, a Celtic tribe. Wikipedia goes on to say, it was not until the 19th century that other Europeans began to use words related to “Czechs” in a deliberate (and successful) attempt to distinguish between ethnic Slavic-speaking Bohemians and other inhabitants of Bohemia.

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In 1851, Henry Murger wrote La Vie de Bohème, a collection of loosely related stories, all set in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s, romanticizing bohemian life in a playful way.

Illustration by Joseph Hémard from Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, Paris, 1921.

Illustration by Joseph Hémard from Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, Paris, 1921.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This novel was actually a bit of a flop and never caught on until Playright Théodore Barrière approached Murger for the rights to make it into a play.  Together the men wrote the play and it became a WILD success.

Shortly after in 1896, and based on this play, one of the greatest operas of all time,  La bohème by Giacomo Puccini was created.

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The Metropolitan Opera has a great synopsis of the beginning of Act 1: ” Paris, in the 1830s. In their Latin Quarter garret, the near-destitute artist Marcello and poet Rodolfo try to keep warm on Christmas Eve by feeding the stove with pages from Rodolfo’s latest drama. They are soon joined by their roommates—Colline, a philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician, who brings food, fuel, and funds he has collected from an eccentric nobleman. While they celebrate their unexpected fortune, the landlord, Benoit, comes to collect the rent. ” This definitely defines the starving a destitute artist living in an unconventional way.

But, I believe the definitive definition happened in between the play and the opera when in 1862 in a Westminister Review, “The term bohemian has come to be very commonly accepted in our day as the description of a certain kind of literary gypsy, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits …. A Bohemian is simply an artist or “littérateur” who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art.”

The minute the word “gypsy” takes center stage, we instinctively gain a picture in our head.
Gypsy Woman, 1886 - Nikolai Yaroshenko

Gypsy Woman, 1886 – Nikolai Yaroshenko

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This outfit is the beginning of the epitome of how we see Bohemians. Patterns and textures may change, but the original look is the same.  For example, the 1960’s “Hippie” took their cue from this Bohemian look (although tie-dye did make its debut).

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Not all of us are Bohemians but since the 19th Century, the definition of what a Bohemian should look like and act like has grown strong in our culture. At the upcoming Bohemian Souls concert, create your own visual. Sit back, close your eyes and see the Bohemian in every song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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