Last modified on 24 October 2016, at 04:55

Bedrich Smetana


Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) was a Czech composer. He is best known for his symphonic poem The Moldau and for his opera The Bartered Bride.

Smetana holds an important place in the development of musical nationalism in his native Bohemia. [1]

Smetana died on May 12, 1884; his funeral turned into a national occasion of mourning, with large crowds lining the path of the procession to say their farewells to the dead master. Franz Liszt wrote: "In haste I write to you, that Smetana's death has touched me deeply. He was truly a genius..." [2]


  • The Bartered Bride (1866 )
  • Dalibor (1868)
  • My Country (between 1874 and 1879) (set of six symphonic poems including The Moldau and From Bohemian Woods and Fields)
  • Libuse (1881)
  • The Prague Carnival (1882-1883)

Life, works and worth

Bedřich Smetana, (1824 – 1884), Czech composer, considered in his homeland the “father of Czech music” was the first of the composers of that region to join the great nationalist movement beginning to sweep Europeean culture during the mid-19th century. (Like the great Antonin Dvorak he was born in the Austrian province of Bohemia.)

His first teacher was his father, a local brewer and keen violinist, and he showed very early promise as a musician. As a teenager he was sent to school in Prague but tended to neglect the classroom in favour of the concert hall where he met Liszt. He also began writing chamber music. He made a precarious living as a piano teacher and failed in his attempt at making a career on the concert platform. A stint as private teacher in the household of a count gave him the opportunity for formal study.

There followed some years of penury (and tragedy – three of his four daughters died in the mid-1850s,) before things improved with an appointment in Sweden. There he wrote the first of the tone poems for which he is justly famous. Then his wife died. Two years later he remarried. He felt the need to return to Bohemia to join the movement towards national expression. He became very involved in Prague’s musical life, began writing operas and became conductor of the “Provisional Theatre” (opera house) there where he would remain until 1874, when the first signs of illness appeared.

(Like a number of composers of the nineteenth into the 20th centuries, (Schubert and Schumann, to name two of the greats), Smetana had contracted syphilis as a young man. In Smetana, it would result in deafness interrupted by a constant piercing whistle, making it extremely difficult to compose. Compose though he did and some of his best-known works come from the last ten years of his life. His tribulations led to a nervous breakdown, finally leading to his being taken to an asylum where he died shortly after.)

His music is original, dramatic, melodic and extremely approachable to the uninitiated. He had the power of description and wrote musical depictions of Bohemia’s landscape, its history (both legendary and real) and reached far enough into the core of the national character to be considered by many of his countrymen to be superior to the much more internationallty feted Dvorak. He wrote in most forms but much of his music is only well known in his homeland. Those works that are known around the world are extremely well-known.

  • Opera: he wrote eight, all of them popular to some extent at home and one, ‘’”The Bartered Bride”’’ extremely popular everywhere. It is even performed by amateur ensembles and its overture is a favourite “filler’’ or encore piece at orchestral concerts.
  • Orchestral: Only one major symphonic work is universally known. ‘’”Ma Vlast”’’ (“My Fatherland”), a suite of musical portraits depicting and celebrating Bohemian life, history and culture, is extremely popular, especially ‘’”Vltava”’’ (The “Moldau”) describing the river that flows through Prague in its various moods.
  • Chamber: He wrote relatively little chamber music but most of what he did write is in the portfolios of major ensembles. There is a youthful piano trio and two late string quartets that bracket a duet for violin and piano. The quartets have an autobiographical bent and the duet returns to the descriptive mode of “Ma Vlast”.
  • He wrote songs and choral pieces and some fine piano music, much of which appears in recitals and anthologies of Czech music.


  • The Grove Concise Dictionary of Classical Music

Musical Links

See also

External links