Bedrich Smetana  
Bedrich Smetana
Bedrich Smetana, (born March 2, 1824, Leitomischl, Bohemia, Austrian Empire [now Litomyšl, Czech Republic]—died May 12, 1884, Prague), Bohemian composer of operas and symphonic poems, founder of the Czech national school of music. He was the first truly important Bohemian nationalist composer.

Smetana studied music under his father, an amateur violinist. He early took up piano under a professional teacher and performed in public at the age of six. He continued his studies and later became music teacher to the family of Leopold, Count von Thun. Encouraged by Franz Liszt he opened a piano school in Prague in 1848 and the next year married the pianist Kateřina Kolářová. In 1856 he wrote his first symphonic poems and in the same year was appointed conductor of the philharmonic society of Gothenburg (Sweden), where he remained until 1861. He then returned to Prague, where he played the leading part in the establishment of the national opera house.

Bedřich Smetana

Smetana’s first opera, Braniboři v Čechách (The Brandenburgers in Bohemia), was produced in Prague in 1866. This was followed by the production on May 30, 1866, of his second opera, Prodaná nevěsta (The Bartered Bride), which later established Smetana’s reputation as a distinctively Czech composer. His later operas were less successful. Dalibor, written under the influence of Wagner, was performed in 1868. Libuše, named after a legendary figure in the history of Prague and intended to celebrate the projected coronation (which never took place) of the emperor Francis Joseph as king of Bohemia, was not produced until 1881. In 1874 Smetana’s health began to deteriorate as a result of syphilis. Greatly concerned, he resigned his conductorship of the Prague Opera. He became totally deaf in late 1874, but between that year and 1879 he wrote the cycle of six symphonic poems bearing the collective title Má vlast (My Country), which includes Vltava (The Moldau), Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests), and Vyšehrad (the name of a fortress in Prague). From this period also came the string quartet to which he gave the title Z mého života (From My Life), considered among his finest works; Hubička (The Kiss), successfully produced in 1876; Čertova stěna (The Devil’s Wall), performed in 1882; and a number of piano solos, including many polkas. Smetana had been, from early in life, a virtuoso performer on the piano, and for many years most of his works were composed for it. Those compositions, augmented by the more mature piano pieces of his difficult last years, constitute an important body of piano literature. Following attacks of depression and symptoms of mental instability, Smetana entered an asylum at Prague and died there.

The Smetana Society, founded in Prague in 1931, maintains a museum containing the composer’s manuscripts and sponsors the publication and performance of his works. Smetana’s works, notably The Bartered Bride, My Country, and the piano trio, continue to be performed throughout the world.

Encyclopćdia Britannica

An oil portrait of Smetana, 1854

Smetana, often regarded as the founder of Czech classical music, was born in Litomysl in Bohemia. Although his parents' eleventh child, he was the first son to survive infancy, and his father, an avid amateur violinist, lavished attention on his musical education. By the age of six he had played in a string quartet and given his first piano recital; two years later lie was writing music. When the family moved to Nemecky Brod — a centre of political and cultural thought - Smetana developed an interest in philosophy and literature.

In 1843 he settled in Prague and earned a living as tutor to an aristocratic family, at the same time studying composition and piano privately. His diary records his early ambition: "By the grace of God and with His help I shall one day be a Liszt in technique and a Mozart in composition."

After taking part in the fighting at the barricades during the abortive 1848 nationalist uprising in Prague, he made the first of many visits to Sweden in 1856 and opened a music school there. His friendship with Liszt (whom he had met several years earlier) led in 1858 to an invitation to visit Leipzig where he attended concerts of contemporary music by composers such as Wagner.

In 1866 Smetana conducted his first successful large-scale composition, The bartered bride, which is one of his most popular works. Its overriding mood is uncharacteristically one of joyous optimism, and Smetana later related how many of the delightful melodies were inspired by his habitual evening walks along the banks of the Vltava river. Also in 1 866 he was appointed to the coveted post of principal conductor of the Prague Provisional Theatre orchestra (in which Dvorak was principal violist). Тhis allowed him to promote new works by fellow Czech composers as well as to include more French and Italian music, rather than the almost exclusive diet of Austrian and German music performed in most Czech concert halls.

Smetana's massive orchestral work Ma Vlast (My Fatherland) occupied the composer for seven years. Completed in 1879. this cycle of six tone poems soon became one of his best-loved pieces, and was performed frequently throughout Europe and America. It represents the struggles of the politically and culturally oppressed Czech people, expressing in music their long-held desire for independence.

During these years, Smetana's health began to deteriorate seriously. The onset of venereal disease brought increasing deafness and badly affected his ability to concentrate. Over the next few years, living in virtual isolation, he composed two operas - The kiss (1876), an attractive blend of serious, romantic and comic elements, and The secret (1877). The autobiographical string quartet, From my life, also composed during these years, includes a piercing whistling sound in the last movement which graphically depicts the effects of Smetana's deafness.

Throughout his last years Smetana's mental health degenerated as well, and in 1884 he was committed to a Prague lunatic asylum. With his death, two months later, Czechoslovakia lost its first truly nationalist composer, one who would provide a source of inspiration for generations of artists to come.

Smetana in about 1883,
near the end of his life


Trio in G minor, Op. 15
Washington Musica Viva
Moderato assai

Allegro, ma non agitato

Finale: Presto

"The Bartered Bride"
Trio Con Brio
Dance of the Comedians
Smetana - Die Moldau (Karajan)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Smetana - "Die Moldau", mit Ansichten von Prag
(klassische Musik, Klassik Musik best of)
Smetana "Má Vlast" 2LP Eterna Vaclav Neumann Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Recorded on 16th October 1966 in the Heilandskirche, Leipzig (1 day before this release: http://youtu.be/pNAcjOEXiIc). First released in 1968, this version is taken from the Eterna double LP 8 25 931-932 from 1973. (Several CD reissues on Berlin Classics are still in print).
0:00 Vyšehrad
15:36 Vltava (Die Moldau)
28:26 Šárka
38:23 Z českých luhů a hájů (Aus Böhmens Hain und Flur)
51:27 Tábor
1:05:09 Blaník
Bedřich Smetana: Prodaná nevěsta /Haitink-Isokoski-Silvasti-Hawlata /
Bedrich Smetana The Bartered Bride
Soile Isokoski (Marenka)
Jorma Silvasti (Jenik)
Franz Hawlata (Kecal)
Gwynne Howell (Krusina)
Heather Begg (Ludmilla)
Ian Bostridge (Vasek)
Robert Tear (Ringmaster)
Roberto Salvatori (Indian),
Colette Delahunt (Esmeralda)
Anne Howells (Hata)
Jeremy White (Micha)
Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Bernard Haitink (conductor), Francesca Zambello (director)
London Sadler's Wells 12/10/1998
Bedrich Smetana-Overture from "The Bartered Bride"
Mariss Jansons-Berliner Philharmoniker
Smetana: Piano Trio g-minor op.15 (HD)
1. Moderato assai
2. Allegro ma non agitato. Alternativo I. Andante / Alternativo II. Maestoso
3. Finale. Presto

Carlota Amado, Piano
Iason Keramidis, Violin
Vasily Bystroff, Cello

Smetana - Piano trio - Oistrakh / Knushevitsky / Oborin
Piano trio op.15

I. Moderato assai 0:00
II. Allegro ma non agitato 12:17
III. Finale. Presto 20:44

David Oistrakh
Sviatoslav Knushevitsky
Lev Oborin
Studio recording, Moscow, 1950

Bedřich Smetana - Quartet No. 1, From My Life / De ma vie / Z mého života /
- Quartet No. 1 in E minor, From My Life / De ma vie / Z mého života (1876)
I. Allegro vivo appassionato
II. Allegro moderato ŕ la Polka
III. Largo sostenuto
IV. Vivace

THE CLEVELAND QUARTET (Donald Weilerstein, Violin; Peter Salaff, Violin; James Dunham, Viola; Paul Katz, Violoncello

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