Bedrich Smetana

Composition Types


Born: Mar 2, 1824; Czech Republic   Died: May 12, 1884; Czech Republic   Period: Romantic
Bedrich Smetana was one of the great composers of his country's history and one of the leaders of the movement toward musical nationalism. His father was a violin teacher who gave Bedrich his first lessons and referred him to keyboard, harmony, and composition lessons when the boy requested them. His father tried to get Bedrich to apply himself in academics, but Bedrich was too focused on music to be a good student.
Bedrich Kittl,
Read more director of the Prague Conservatory, in 1844 found Smetana a job as a music teacher to the family of Count Leopold Thun while continuing music studies. He remained with the count for three and a half years, but he quit to undertake a concert tour, which turned out to be a financial failure.
Franz Liszt aided Smetana in finding a publisher for some early piano music and in 1848, Smetana founded a successful piano school.
Although he established a strong local reputation as a pianist, his piano compositions (mostly lighter works) did not earn him any special distinction as a composer.
In 1860, the Austro-Hungarian Empire granted internal political autonomy to Bohemia. A movement began to search for a genuine Czech voice in arts, including the establishment of a national theater. In 1862-1863, Smetana composed The Brandenburgers in Bohemia, his first opera, which was a success at its premiere on January 5, 1866. His next opera was Prodaná nevesta (The Bartered Bride), his most famous and enduring opera today, but a failure when it premiered on May 30, 1866.
In 1866, Smetana became conductor of the Provisional Theater, re-forming its administration and attempting to raise standards. His next opera, Dalibor (1871), was criticized for its Wagnerian elements. He had also written Libuse, but could find no producer. But in 1874, he had a large success with a light, popular opera, The Two Widows.
However, a severe whistling in the ears (graphically depicted in his autobiographical string quartet From My Life) led to deafness by the end of that year, symptoms of tertiary syphilis. He continued to compose and wrote his orchestral masterpiece Má Vlast (My Country) from 1874 to 1879. Three more operas were premiered successfully, including Libuse, but the last was The Devil's Wall (1882). By now, Smetana was seriously ill. The brain damage from syphilis led to madness, and he was confined to an asylum where he died. National mourning was proclaimed and he was given a burial at the Vyshehrad, one of the national sites depicted in Má Vlast. Read less
Smetana: String Quartets No 1 & 2, Etc / Moyzes Quartet
Release Date: 02/15/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550379   Number of Discs: 1
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Smetana: Má Vlast / Antoni Wit, Polish Nrso
Release Date: 11/29/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550931   Number of Discs: 1
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Smetana: Má Vlast / Järvi, Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Release Date: 06/20/1995   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 9366   Number of Discs: 1
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Smetana, Suk, Novak: Piano Trios / Joachim Trio
Release Date: 08/25/1998   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8553415   Number of Discs: 1
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Smetana, Suk: Piano Trios, Etc / Mendelssohn Piano Trio
Release Date: 09/30/2008   Label: Centaur Records  
Catalog: 2868   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Bartered Bride Overture


About This Work
Unlike Rossini, who would often wait until the very last minute to write an overture for one of his operas, or even himself for his other operas, Bedrich Smetana actually wrote the overture for his opera The Bartered Bride before he wrote anything Read more else for it. While the libretto was still being worked out, Smetana composed the overture in piano score during autumn 1863, two and a half years before the premiere of the first version of the opera. He was excited about his second work in the genre, one that would depict rustic Czech life rather than aristocratic life, that would represent Czech music rather than copy German styles, and that would be light and comic rather than Wagnerian. The final orchestration does succeed in those respects. It also reflects the excitement he felt, opening with brief fanfare, then with the strings building up to the main theme, a peasant dance-like melody. This theme is developed somewhat fugally and is followed by a brief oboe melody. Another idea appears in the strings, before the return of the first theme, which is again elaborated and is also the basis of the coda. All of the themes were used in the finale of the opera's second act. Along with Dvorák's music, these themes contribute a great deal to the character of Czech Romantic music, using peasant dance and song idioms for new melodies. The fresh and earthy Overture to the Bartered Bride is perhaps Smetana's second-most famous work, behind only The Moldau.

-- Patsy Morita Read less

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