Bedřich Smetana (02.03.1824 – 12.05.1884) was a Czech composer who developed a musical style, inspired by popular legends, history and countryside, that became synonymous with his country’s aspirations for independence. Nowadays he is recognised as the vital force in establishing Bohemian music around the globe. Not even his successor, the great Dvořák made his homeland such an indelible part of his musical style.
Most of Smetana’s early works were written for the piano but these are rarely heard today. He also wrote chamber music and his Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15 remains a popular piece. Smetana had virtually no precursors in Czech opera¹ but he proceeded to write such operas as The Kiss and The Bartered Bride; though only the latter is widely available on CD. However it is for his orchestral music that Smetana is most remembered and his work Má Vlast (My Country) is a true masterpiece that deservers a place in any collection.
Má Vlast is a set of six symphonic poems composed between 1874 and 1879:
- Vysehrad ( The high castle)
- Vltava (The Moldau) – evoking the sounds of the great river
- Šárka – a female warrior
- Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemia’s woods and fields) – which perfectly evokes the feeling of the countryside
- Tábor – city in in the south of Bohemia
- Blaník – a mountain in which, according to legend, a huge army of knights led by St. Wenceslas sleep.
There are two truly great historic performances of this great work. Firstly the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra’s legendary rendition conducted by Rafael Kubelík (recorded at the 1990 Prague Spring Festival) and the most moving recording of them all Vaclav Talich’s live wartime performance with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in 1939.
However a work of this nature does benefit from modern sound so on balance we have decided to include another live recording of Smetana’s great work performed by the Czech Philharmonic; this time conducted by the late Jiří Bělohlávek. It was recorded during the opening concerts of the celebrated Prague Spring Festival. This was the orchestra’s first appearance at Prague Spring following the maestro’s return to the orchestra as Chief Conductor in 2012.
¹ With the possible exception of František Škroup.