Work: The Moldau
About This Work
The Moldau is the most popular six works comprising Bedrich Smetana's collection of symphonic poems assembled under the title Má Vlast (My Country). It is, in fact, one of the most widely performed symphonic poems ever written. Vltava is the
name of a river that runs through rural Czechoslovakia and Prague. Moldau is its German name and has come to be the preferred title for this piece, not least because Smetana himself was a German-speaking Czech. The Moldau was chronologically the second of the six works in Má Vlast. During its composition, the composer was plagued by severe headaches, symptoms of a condition that would cause him to go completely deaf in October 1874. Smetana had found his walks along the shores of the Moldau a source of compositional inspiration and thus decided to include a portrait of it in this series, which he began in 1872 with Vysehrad. He gave The Moldau a sort of Rondo structure and divided it into eight continuous sections. A pair of swirling flutes opens the work to represent the two sources (springs) of the Moldau, and then energetic clarinets soon join them before the famous main theme is presented. Played by the strings overtop busily swirling harmonies, this melody has a Czech folk-like character in its serene, proud character, and represents the Moldau River. Oddly, research supports the view that the source of this theme is a Swedish folk song, Ack, Värmland du sköna. After some development of the river theme, there follows the "Forest Hunt," wherein horns and trumpets impart a triumphant sense to the music. Another but quite lively and joyous folk-ish theme then depicts a "Peasant Wedding" celebration. "Moonlight: Dance of the Water Nymphs" ensues, bringing instrumentation of delicate textures and music of nocturnal serenity. The main theme briefly returns before "The Rapids," a lively, powerful section in some ways corresponding to the "Thunderstorm" in Beethoven's Symphony No. 6. Again, the river theme returns, but soon yields to the Vysehrad, wherein Smetana quotes the main theme from the set's first symphonic poem. This grandiose section leads to what would be a quiet ending, but for the two boisterous chords that spring up to close the work. The Moldau typically has a duration of about 12 to 13 minutes.
-- Robert Cummings
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