Happy Birthday, Bedřich Smetana!

Prague Morning

Prague Morning

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Bedřich Smetana was born on March 2, 1824 as the 11th child in a brewer’s family in Litomyšl. He was already playing the violin in a quartet when he was five years old, then the piano a year later, and he was eight years old when he composed his first work.

He went to Prague to study music and there he worked as a teacher in the family of Count Thun. In 1856, the composer left for Gothenburg, Sweden, where he worked as a teacher, conductor, and piano virtuoso. During this period of his life Smetana was twice married; of six daughters, three died in infancy.

In 1866 his first two operas, The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride, were premiered at Prague's new Provisional Theatre.

The premiere of The Bartered Bride didn’t go well. It was programmed on a national holiday (this is an issue to this day – avoid programming your concerts over a long weekend!). It was stiflingly hot, and air conditioning wasn’t invented yet. To top it off, war between Prussia and Austria was an issue, and folks weren’t up for light opera comedy

In 1874, Smetana suffered from an unexplained illness that caused him to lose his hearingMost of his major works were created after this affliction – the operas Kiss, The Secret, The Devil’s Wall, both string quartets, the piano cycles Dreams and Czech dances, and a number of choral works; he completed the cycle My Country, which he worked on for five years.

Smetana came upon the idea while he was having a picnic beside two little streams that came together, then bubbled and gurgled off into the distance. 

A gentle pirouette on the woodwind starts this musical tale, gradually developing the theme. The music matches the scenes on the riverbank as it makes its way across country - folk tunes passing by a gypsy wedding, majestic orchestration as it sweeps below Prague Castle.

Then the thundering conclusion, the white water, as Vltava becomes one with the River Elbe on its way to the North Sea. Some 430 kilometres of Smetana's own water music. Sadly, he was never able to hear it. 

Author: red


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