škoda lásky
Culture & Science Music

Škoda lásky (Beer Barrel Polka) – Czech Song that you know but might not know it’s Czech

You know the tune, you probably sang it at some point but what you perhaps don’t know is that the song that you might know as “Beer Barrel Polka”, “Rosamunde” or under another name is called Škoda lásky and it’s a Czech song.

Although people in many countries such as the USA, Germany, Denmark and several countries have another name for this song and often consider the melody something that comes from their country, this worldwide famous tune comes from Czechoslovakia. It was written by Jaromír Vejvoda, Czech composer and Kapellmeister and it’s name is Škoda lásky or Modřanská polka.

Origins of the song Škoda lásky

The Vejvoda family resided in Zbraslav and although they worked in construction, they were also talented musicians. Young Jaromír’s father brought up his children to appreciate music. Jaromír learnt to play the violin, flugelhorn and trumpet. By the time he was fifteen, he was an established member of his father’s band. At the age of eighteen, he decided to join a military music band in Brno.

Our marching band music made all Brno stand up. The girls were chasing us.

– Jaromír Vejvoda

After he took over his father’s band in 1924 (by that time the band was so famous that people from many corners of the country came to their performances), he decided to start composing songs to expand their repertoire. In 1927, Jaromír Vejvoda composed a song that he called Modřanská, the rhythm was a polka, a traditional Czech 2/4 beat dance, thus the larger variant of the name of the song – Modřanská polka (polka of Modřany). At first, only the Vejvoda band was playing it but before long, other bands were borrowing it and just two years after its composition, a first LP record of the song was made.

How did the song become a worldwide hit?

In 1934, Vejvoda signed a contract with Jan Hoffmann’s publishing house and teamed up with Václav Zeman who helped him write the lyrics. This was also the point when the song received the name we know today – Škoda lásky or Wasted Love. The partiture was published that same year. The director of the publishing house (Jan Hoffmann’s widow) didn’t pay the author much for his work (only 150 CZK) but advertised the song well. Not only were bands buying the music score but also foreigners started noticing it and adapting lyrics.

One of the first were the Germans, they called the song Rosamunde and the lyrics speak about a man’s love for a woman called Rosamunde. New York’s publishing house Shapiro & Bernstein bought the rights to the song in 1939 and the polka rhythm as accepted very well as the syncopation of Vejvoda’s song aligned with the America’s public’s love for swing in that time period.

škoda lásky
Foto: Sága rodu Vejvodů, Petrklíč 2005

From there, the song spread into (almost) the whole world and often times, people from other countries think it comes from their country. It’s not so surprising given the fact that in some languages the song has lyrics that have been sung for decades. The lyrics changes also in the author’s homeland. During communism, the parts mentioning God were replaced as well as those that were considered too pessimistic.

General Eisenhower is believed to have said that the song helped win the war as it played for the allies’ troops as they marched through western Europe.

Škoda lásky in other countries

There are approximately 30 language variations of the song. Here are some of the foreign names:

English speakingBeer Barrel Polka
 countriesRoll out the Barrel
Here comes the Navy
FranceFrida oum Papa
SwedenUt i naturen
Dags för en polka
DenmarkHvor er min Kone
FinlandTonttujen joulupolkka
Böömiläinen polkka
HungarySej-haj Rozi
BrasilBarril de Chapp
SpainPolka del Barril
JapanBeer Taru polka
Poland“My młodzi, my młodzi, nam bimber nie zaszkodzi…”
Szkoda miłości
The NetherlandsRats, kuch en bonen
LatviaLabākie gadi
Pažārnieke un meitenes
UkraineНе вернуться роки мої молоді

Vejvoda’s later life and an recognition

The heiress of the publishing house emigrated to Germany and her attorney inherited the rights to the song. He later sold them to a German published and he to Warner Bros’ Warner/Chappel.

Therefore, although Vejvoda was the author of the song, most of the money always went to somebody else. He led a happy life with his wife and three sons, reportedly, he was a pleasant and modest man who was always dressed up in case someone came for a visit. In 1948, Vejvoda was forced to dissolve the band, work as a warehouser and his family home in Zbraslav was confiscated by the state. At the end of the 1950s, he resumed his career in music as a conductor of the band Zbraslavanka. He died in 1988 and in 2000, his three sons received the award “Hit of the Century” for his song Škoda lásky. He composed many songs but this one remains his most famous one.

In 1987, the USA issued a stamp in honor of the 60th anniversary of the song and in 1995, it was chosen as the song to wake up the Discovery astronauts.

Famous interpretations of Škoda lásky

Vejvoda’s song never lost its popularity. It’s been interpreted by many artists in many countries. Here are at least some of them.

Chico Marx

André Rieu as a conductor

On the Lawrence Welk Show

Karel Gott

To mention at least a few more, Škoda lásky was performed also by the Andrews Sisters, Billie Holiday or Glenn Miller’s orchestra.

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