Smetana, Bedrich


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Smetana, Bedřich

(bĕ`dərzhĭkh smĕ`tänä), 1824–84, Czech composer, creator of a national style in Czech music. He studied in Pilsen and in Prague, where in 1848, with the encouragement of Liszt, he opened a music school. From 1856 to 1860 he was a conductor at Göteborg, Sweden. In 1861 he returned to Prague and took an active role in founding a national opera house. His first patriotic opera, The Brandenburgers in Bohemia, was produced there in 1866. In the same season his most famous work, The Bartered Bride, was staged. It presented a genial picture of village life in Bohemia and reflected the spirit of Czech folk music and dance. The opera was immensely successful, and Smetana was appointed chief conductor of the National Theater. He retained that post until 1874, when he became deaf. Afflicted by nervous disorder for many years, he died in an insane asylum. Smetana's other operas include Dalibor (1868), The Kiss (1876), The Secret (1878), and Libuše (1881). His symphonic poem My Fatherland (1879) contains the well-known section Vltava (The Moldau). Almost all his music is programmatic, even two string quartets, From My Life (1876, 1882), the earlier of which is one of his finest works.

Bibliography

See biographies by B. Large (1970) and J. Clapham (1972).

Smetana, Bedřich

 

Born Mar. 2, 1824, in Litomyšl; died May 12, 1884, in Prague. Czech composer, conductor, pianist, and public figure in the world of music.

Smetana studied in Prague under J. Proksch. While still a child, he came in contact with the ideas of the Bouditeli (Awak-eners). He began concertizing as a pianist in 1847 and played publicly for more than 20 years. During the period 1847–56 he directed a music school that he founded in Prague. From 1856 to 1861, Smetana lived in Göteborg, Sweden, where he performed as a conductor and pianist. During these years, he composed the piano works Six Characteristic Pieces (two books, 1848), which Liszt praised, and Memories of Bohemia (polkas, I860) and the symphonic poems Richard III (1858), after Shakespeare, Wallenstein’s Camp (1859), after Schiller, and Haakon Jarl (1861), after Oehlenschläger.

In 1862, Smetana began performing in Prague as an orchestra conductor, choral director, and pianist. He also taught, wrote music critiques, and organized public musical and educational activities. Beginning in 1863 he directed the Hlahol chorus in Prague and the music section of the Umĕlecká Beseda arts club. From 1866 to 1874, Smetana served as operatic conductor of the Provisional Theater. He enriched the theater’s repertoire, presenting not only the Western European classical operas but also works by Czech composers, including F. Škroup, K. Bendl, and L. Mĕchura, he also conducted the operas of M. I. Glinka and S. Moniuszko’s opera Halka. It was here that Smetana supervised the staging of his own operas and conducted many of their premieres, thus laying the foundations of the national operatic repertoire.

Smetana wrote a total of nine operas, including the historical musical drama The Brandenburgers in Bohemia (1863), which called for liberation from national and social oppression, and his most famous work, the comic opera The Bartered Bride (1866, Prague; 3rd version, 1870, St. Petersburg), which is still performed in many countries. The Bartered Bride is marked by realistic scenes from the everyday life of the people, the joy of life, and the melodic quality of its music, based on folk tunes and the rhythms of Bohemian dances. The tragic opera Dalibor (1868) provoked a polemic in which Smetana was supported by the progressive leaders of Bohemian culture, including J. Neruda and O. Hostinský; others accused the composer of departing from national traditions under the influence of Liszt and Wagner.

In connection with his loss of hearing, Smetana resigned from his post as conductor and settled in the village of Jabken-ice, near Prague, where he composed his finest orchestral works, including the cycle Má Vlast (1874–79), consisting of six programmatic symphonic poems: Vyšehrad, Vltava (The Moldau), Šárka, From the Fields and Groves of Bohemia, Tábor, and Blaník. The work celebrates the Bohemian countryside and people, using heroic national legends. While in Jabkenice, Smetana also wrote the operas The Secret (1878), The Devil’s Wall (1882), and Viola (unfinished; staged 1924), two string quartets (1876 and 1883), the first of which is autobiographical and entitled From My Life, and other chamber-instrumental works, choral works, and the Czech Dances for piano (1877–79).

Smetana was a composer-patriot, who fought for progressive artistic ideals. His creative work, marked by its national idiom and the great skill of its creator, determined later paths of development in Czech music. In Prague, a concert hall, a string quartet, and a musical society have been named in honor of Smetana; the musical society has published the composer’s complete works. The Smetana Museum, founded in 1928, is located in Prague and has branches in Litomyšl and Jabkenice.

REFERENCES

Gulinskaia, Z. Bedrzhikh Smetana. Moscow, 1959.
Martynov, I. Bedrzhikh Smetana. Moscow, 1963.
Belza, I. Istoriia cheshskoi muzykal’noi kul’tury, vol. 2. Moscow, 1973. Chapter 3.
Hostinský, O. Bedřich Smetana a jeho boj omoderní českou hudbu. Prague, 1901.
Nejedlý, Z. Bedřich Smetana, books 1–7. Prague, 1950–54.
Plavec, J. Smetanova tvorbásborová. Prague, 1954.
“Soupis dopisu Bedřicha Smetany.” Miscellanea musicologica, 1960, vol. 15.
Clapham, J. Smetana. London, 1972.

I. F. BELZA