Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bedřich Smetana

Since this may be my last opportunity to ramble about Romantic-period music, I'm just going to hammer Czech nationalism in.  I kept mentioning Bedřich Smetana in my last post without really explaining who he was.  Born in 1824 in Bohemia, his career was fairly similar to Dvořák's; after initial struggles as a musician, he earned recognition as a composer in the 1860s with a series of operas which are now rarely performed outside the Czech Republic.  The works for which he is now internationally known were not composed until near the end of his life.  The only Smetana works currently in the standard repertoire are one of his operas, his cycle of symphonic poems Má Vlast, and his String Quartet no. 1 "From my Life".  Here is a recording of Má Vlast:

The suite as a whole is performed quite rarely; most performances include only one piece at a time, most commonly Vltava, which depicts the river that runs through Prague.  That movement contains Smetana's most famous melodies and orchestration.  The entire cycle is concerned with Czech landscapes and folklore, and is unsubtly sentimental and nationalistic.  It epitomizes Smetana's "Czech style" by using techniques from Berlioz, Beethoven, and sometimes Wagner to depict a nationalistically Czech program.

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