And here´s the most important composition of Bedřich Smetana:
Bedřich Smetana ( March 1824 – 12 May 1884) was a Czech composer who pioneered the development of a musical style that became closely identified with his people’s aspirations to a cultural and political “revival.” He has been regarded in his homeland as the father of Czech music. Internationally he is best known for his opera The Bartered Bride and for the symphonic cycle Má vlast (“My Fatherland”), which portrays the history, legends and landscape of the composer’s native Bohemia. It contains the famous symphonic poem “Vltava”, also popularly known by its German name “Die Moldau” (in English, “The Moldau”).
Smetana was naturally gifted as a composer, and gave his first public performance at the age of 6. After conventional schooling, he studied music under Josef Proksch in Prague. His first nationalistic music was written during the 1848 Prague uprising, in which he briefly participated. After failing to establish his career in Prague, he left for Sweden, where he set up as a teacher and choirmaster in Gothenburg, and began to write large-scale orchestral works.
In the early 1860s, a more liberal political climate in Bohemia encouraged Smetana to return permanently to Prague. He threw himself into the musical life of the city, primarily as a champion of the new genre of Czech opera. In 1866 his first two operas, The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride, were premiered at Prague’s new Provisional Theatre, the latter achieving great popularity. In that same year, Smetana became the theatre’s principal conductor, but the years of his conductorship were marked by controversy. Factions within the city’s musical establishment considered his identification with the progressive ideas of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner inimical to the development of a distinctively Czech opera style. This opposition interfered with his creative work, and may have hastened a decline in health that precipitated his resignation from the theatre in 1874.
By the end of 1874, Smetana had become completely deaf but, freed from his theatre duties and the related controversies, he began a period of sustained composition that continued for almost the rest of his life. His contributions to Czech music were increasingly recognised and honoured, but a mental collapse early in 1884 led to his incarceration in an asylum and subsequent death. Smetana’s reputation as the founding father of Czech music has endured in his native country, where advocates have raised his status above that of his contemporaries and successors. However, relatively few of Smetana’s works are in the international repertory, and most foreign commentators tend to regard Antonín Dvořák as a more significant Czech composer.
Má vlast (Czech pronunciation: [maː vlast]), also known as My Fatherland,[n 1] is a set of six symphonic poems composed between 1874 and 1879 by the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. The six pieces, conceived as individual works, are often presented and recorded as a single work in six movements. They premiered separately between 1875 and 1880. The complete set premiered on 5 November 1882 in Žofín Palace, Prague, under Adolf Čech.
Má vlast combines the symphonic poem form, pioneered by Franz Liszt, with the ideals of nationalistic music of the late nineteenth century. Each poem depicts an aspect of Bohemia’s countryside, history, or legends.
The works have opened the Prague Spring International Music Festival, on the 12 May anniversary of the death of their composer, since 1952.
Má vlast consists of six pieces:
Vyšehrad (The High Castle)
Vltava (The Moldau)
Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields)
Vyšehrad above the Vltava River:
The first poem, Vyšehrad (The High Castle), composed between the end of September and 18 November 1874 and premiered on 14 March 1875 at the [Prague] Philharmonic, describes the Vyšehrad castle in Prague which was the seat of the earliest Czech kings. During the summer of 1874, Smetana began to lose his hearing, and total deafness soon followed; he described the gradual, but rapid loss of his hearing in a letter of resignation to the director of the Royal Provincial Czech Theatre, Antonín Čížek. In July 1874 he began hearing anomalous noise and then a permanent buzzing. Not long after the onset he was unable to distinguish individual sounds. At the beginning of October he lost all hearing in his right ear, and finally on 20 October in his left. His treatment was based on maintaining isolation from all sounds, but was unsuccessful.
The poem begins with the sounds of the harp of the mythical singer Lumír, and then crosses over into the tones of the castle’s arsenal. This section of the music introduces the main motifs, which are used in other parts of the cycle. A four note motif (B♭–E♭–D–B♭) represents the castle of Vyšehrad; this is heard again at the end of ‘Vltava’ and once more, to round the whole cycle off, at the conclusion of ‘Blaník’.
In the score two harps are required to perform the opening arpeggios. After a dominant seventh chord, the winds take up the theme, followed by the strings, before the whole orchestra is employed to reach a climax. In the next part, Smetana recalls the story of the castle, using a faster tempo which becomes a march. A seemingly triumphant climax is cut short by a descending passage depicting the collapse of the castle, and the music falls quiet. Then the opening harp material is heard again and the music reminds again of the beauty of the castle, now in ruins. The music ends quietly, depicting the River Vltava flowing below the castle.
Army of knights led by St. Wenceslas: Věnceslav Černý:
Conceived between 1872 and 1874, it is the only piece in the cycle to be mostly completed before Smetana began to go noticeably deaf in the summer of 1874. Most performances last approximately fifteen minutes in duration.
Vltava, also known by its English title The Moldau, and the German Die Moldau, was composed between 20 November and 8 December 1874 and was premiered on 4 April 1875 under Adolf Čech. It is about 13 minutes long, and is in the key of E minor.
In this piece, Smetana uses tone painting to evoke the sounds of one of Bohemia’s great rivers. In his own words:
The composition describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer’s wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night’s moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St John’s Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vyšehrad, and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Labe (or Elbe, in German).
Vltava contains Smetana’s most famous tune. It is an adaptation of the melody La Mantovana, attributed to the Italian renaissance tenor, Giuseppe Cenci, which, in a borrowed Romanian form, was also the basis for the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah. The tune also appears in an old Czech folk song, Kočka leze dírou (“The Cat Crawls Through the Hole”); Hanns Eisler used it for his “Song of the Moldau”; and Stan Getz performed it as “Dear Old Stockholm” (possibly through another derivative of the original tune, “Ack Värmeland du sköna”).
The piece is featured in the 2011 American movie The Tree of Life and in Don Hertzfeldt’s Everything Will Be OK.
The third poem was finished on 20 February 1875 and is named for the female warrior Šárka, a central figure in the ancient Czech legend of The Maidens’ War. Šárka ties herself to a tree as bait and waits to be saved by the princely knight Ctirad, deceiving him into believing that she is an unwilling captive of the rebelling women. Once released by Ctirad, who has quickly fallen in love with her, Šárka serves him and his comrades with drugged mead and once they have fallen asleep she sounds a hunting horn: an agreed signal to the other women. The poem ends with the warrior maidens falling upon and murdering the sleeping men. It was first performed under the baton of Adolf Čech (sources disagree whether this was on 10 December 1876 or 17 March 1877).
Smetana finished composing this piece, commonly translated as “From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields” or “From Bohemian Fields and Groves”, on 18 October 1875, and it received its first public performance nearly eight weeks later, on 10 December. A depiction of the beauty of the Czech countryside and its people, the tone poem tells no real story. The first part is dedicated to the grandeur of the forest with a surprising fugue in the strings, interrupted by a soft woodland melody of the horns, which is later taken over by the whole orchestra. In the second part, a village festival is depicted in full swing. This tone poem was originally written to be the finale of Má vlast.
This piece, which was finished on 13 December 1878 and premiered on 4 January 1880, is named for the city of Tábor in the south of Bohemia founded by the Hussites and serving as their center during the Hussite Wars. The theme for the piece is quoted from the first two lines of the Hussite hymn, “Ktož jsú boží bojovníci” (“Ye Who Are Warriors of God”).
Blaník was finished on 9 March 1879 and premiered on 4 January 1880. It is named for the mountain Blaník inside which a legend says that a huge army of knights led by St. Wenceslas sleep. The knights will awake and help the country in its gravest hour (sometimes described as four hostile armies attacking from all cardinal directions).
Musically, Blaník begins exactly as Tábor ends, “hammering” out the motto which was left unresolved, but now continuing on, as if in the aftermath of the battle. Thus these last two tone poems of the cycle form a cohesive pair, as do the first two; the High Castle’s theme returns as the Vltava’s river journey triumphantly reaches that same destination, and again returns triumphantly at the end of Blaník. Once again, the Hussite hymn used in Tábor is quoted, though this time it is the third line which rings out in the march at the end of the piece. The original lyrics to this line in the hymn are “so that finally with Him you will always be victorious”, a reference to the eventual victorious rise of the Czech state. (wikipedia)
And here´s the version of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra , Amsterdam (produced for the German record market; the booklet is in German only)
Czech composer Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884), an intense nationalist, wrote the six symphonic poems known collectively as Ma Vlast (My Country or My Fatherland) between 1874 and 1879, ironically, following his having a nervous breakdown and going deaf. He dedicated the cycle of works to the city of Prague, the first two movements dealing with the sights and sounds of the city.
With Hungarian conductor Antal Dorati leading the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Newton Classics’ current reissued Philips recording, we get spirited, red-blooded accounts of all six episodes of the score, with plenty of color and characterization. The performances perhaps lack something of the subtlety and stylishness of several rival versions, like those from Neumann (Berlin Classics), Kubelik (Supraphon), Berglund (EMI), Pesek (Virgin), and Wit (Naxos), but Dorati’s energy, vivaciousness, animation, and warmth more than make up for any minor concerns.
The cycle begins with Vysehrad (1874), named after the venerable castle of Bohemian kings in Prague. Under Dorati, the music sounds beautifully smooth, lyrical, and Romantic yet well sprung, too, with finely articulated tensions and releases. Dorati perfectly judges the tempos throughout this segment, even if they are a tad faster than we usually hear. Still, the conductor works up a passionate response in the process.
Next up we hear Vltava (1874), which describes the river called in German the Moldau, and uses an old Czech folk tune as its principal theme. Smetana’s original program notes tell us that the music traces the countryside the river runs through: meadows, forests, even conjuring up water nymphs along the way. This is the most-famous section of the work, and conductors often play it by itself; thus, you’ll find quite a few more separate recordings of Vltava (or The Moldau) than of the complete Ma Vlast, my own favorite Moldau being one recorded long ago by Leopold Stokowski, available in an RCA collection of rhapsodies. In any case, here Dorati again seems brisker than other conductors, yet his timing is actually slower than four other recordings I had on hand for comparison. It’s a trick Dorati employs, seeming to be quickening the tempo when he is really slowing it.
After that we get Sarka (1875), which refers to a female warrior in Czech legend who exacts a bloody revenge on the male sex. This portion of Ma Vlast ties in with the final two sections in describing Bohemia’s fierce struggle for independence. Dorati succeeds in capturing its excitement and mystery.
From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields (1875) is pretty much self-explanatory. In this segment we’re back to the pastoral pleasures of the countryside. Dorati is properly lilting and melodic, the music’s lively ebbs and flows harking back to the conductor’s handling of the Vltava section.
Tabor (1878), which introduces us to a Hussite war tune (the Hussites were followers of John Huss, who initiated a nationalistic movement in Bohemia in the late fourteenth century); and Blanik (1879), the mountain where the Hussites retreated before their ultimate fight for liberation. I always think of these final portions of the cycle as the battle sequences. Like other people, I’m sure, though, I have never found these pieces as satisfying as Smetana’s preceding music; it’s a little long and more than a little repetitious. Nevertheless, Dorati plays up the drama for all it’s worth and makes one sit up and take notice as much as or more than other interpreters have done. Perhaps only in the concluding section, Blanik, does Dorati seem a touch hesitant or tardy, but without a direct comparison to other recordings, he seems right on. Besides which, the more relaxed pace lends a greater weight and dignity to the final chapter.
The companion filler piece, the symphonic poem In Nature’s Realm by Smetana’s countryman, Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), makes an appropriate choice. Dvorak wrote it as the first in a trio of independent overtures connected by a related musical theme. Dvorak’s idea was to show Man in the face of Nature and how nature can affect one in a positive way if we let it into our lives. Dorati conducts it delicately yet powerfully and allows us to take pleasure in the music’s sweet harmonies. ( John J. Puccio )
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Antal Dorati
01. Vyšehrad 13.37
02. Vltava (The Moldau) 13.12
03. Šárka 10.41
04. Z Českých Luhů A Hájů (From Bohemia’s Woods And Fields) 12.26
05. Tábor 13.54
06. Blaník 15.26
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is a Dutch symphony orchestra, based at the Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw (concert hall). Considered one of the world’s leading orchestras, Queen Beatrix conferred the “Royal” title upon the orchestra in 1988. (wikipedia)