Rudolf Firkusny plays Dvorak, Smetana, Dussek, Benda, Tomasek, Vorisek
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Rudolf Firkusny plays Dvorak, Smetana, Dussek, Benda, Tomasek, Vorisek
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Smetana, Bed?ich [Friedrich]
(b Litomyšl, 2 March 1824; d Prague, 12 May 1884 ). Czech composer, conductor and critic. The first Czech nationalist composer and the most important of the new generation of Czech opera composers writing from the 1860s. His eight operas established a canon of Czech operas to serve as models for Czech nationalist opera and have remained in the Czech repertory ever since. Such was the force of his musical personality that his musical style became synonymous with Czech nationalist style, his name a rallying point for the polemics which were to continue in Czech musical life into the next century.
1. Youth and training, 1824–47.
As a master brewer Smetana's father František (Franz) Smetana (1777–1857) was a comparatively rich man with cultural pretentions which included domestic music-making as a member of a string quartet. He initiated his son into the elements of music when he was four. Soon, however, he entrusted him to the care of a tradesman Jan Chmelík (1777–1849), who organized musical events for the owner of the estate, Count Waldstein, from whom Smetana's father rented the Litomyšl brewery. At first Smetana learnt the violin, but the piano took his fancy even more. He demonstrated his talent publicly at the age of six at a student concert in Litomyšl, where he played a piano arrangement of the overture to Auber's La muette de Portici. His father, however, had different plans for his son and so, after finishing his main schooling, Smetana continued at the gymnasium. He attended several: in Neuhaus (now Jind?ich?v Hradec) 1834–5, Iglau (Jihlava) 1835–6, Deutschbrod (Havlí?k?v Brod) 1836–9, and finally in Prague 1839–40. Here his not very successful studies culminated in his abandoning school altogether, attracted as he was more to the social and cultural life of Prague. With fellow students he played in a quartet for which he arranged pieces heard at promenade concerts by military bands. The seriousness which even then he brought to bear on his musical activities is attested by the first list of compositions which he entered in his diary in 1841, although only one of these pieces survives intact: his Louisen-Polka for piano.
After the inevitable break with his father, Smetana was saved from a career as a clerk by his older cousin, Josef František Smetana, a Czech patriot and teacher at the Premonstratensian Gymnasium in Plze?, where, under his watchful eye, Smetana completed his studies. An enthusiastic dancer, who liked entertaining a whole company, Smetana composed mainly dance and salon pieces for piano at that time ‘in total ignorance of a spiritual musical education’, as he later noted on the Overture in C minor for four hands. But he also recorded his aims in his diary (23 January 1843): ‘By the grace of God and with his help I will one day be a Liszt in technique and a Mozart in composition’. With the agreement of his father he returned to Prague in October 1843, having decided to devote himself only to music.
In view of his father's worsened financial circumstances Smetana was unable to depend on help from home and his plans changed into worries over his very existence. However, fortune smiled on him at the beginning of 1844 when, on the recommendation of the director of the Prague Conservatory Johann Friedrich Kittl, he acquired a place as music teacher to the family of Count Leopold Thun. Furthermore Anna Kolá?ová (Kolar), mother of his later wife Kate?ina (Katharina), whom Smetana had worshipped from his time in Plze?, introduced him to Joseph Proksch, with whom Kate?ina was studying the piano and who now accepted Smetana as a private composition pupil. Proksch's musical institute belonged to the most important in Prague, his teaching methods were the most modern in Europe. Smetana taught composition from the latest textbook, Die Lehre von der musikalischen Komposition by Adolf Bernhard Marx (1837ff), which, together with Proksch's views, which were based mainly on Beethoven but also drew from Berlioz, Chopin and the Leipzig circle, exerted a huge influence on his development as a composer. Smetana did indeed start from scratch. A fine series of assignments survives demonstrating a systematic development from simple harmonic exercises to a mastery of forms, crowned in 1846 by the Piano Sonata in G minor. He proudly showed the piece to Robert and Clara Schumann, who were giving concerts in Prague in January 1847 but, as we read in their diaries, they disapproved of it as being too Berlioz-like. Naturally Smetana did not confine himself to set assignments. He wrote piano pieces inspired by the refined salon and virtuoso output of the time (Henselt, Chopin, Schumann) and his first piano cycle, Bagatelles et impromptus. In the middle of 1847 Smetana completed his studies with Proksch and almost at the same time (1 June 1847) ended his teaching at the Thuns. The reason for his departure from the Thuns is given in his diary for 1847: ‘I wanted to travel the world as a virtuoso, accumulating money and gaining a public position as a Kapellmeister, conductor or teacher’. He also planned to organize his own orchestra.
2. At the beginnings of a musical career, 1848–56.
Smetana wished to secure an independent existence as a musician for himself. He tried making a living as a virtuoso, but the concert tour (to western Bohemia) of an unknown pianist with a most demanding programme (Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin and Liszt filled out with his own piano fantasy Böhmische Melodien) ended in failure. So on 28 January 1848 he requested permission from the Provincial Government to open a music institute, and his main concern was to acquire the financial means. In straitened circumstances he wrote a letter to Liszt (23 March 1848), who was known for his support of young artists, asking him to accept the dedication of his piano cycle Six morceaux caractéristiques op.1 and help find a publisher for it. He also asked for the loan of 400 gulden. Liszt encouraged Smetana with words but no loan. He accepted the dedication and, after a reminder in December 1848 when Smetana looked him up on his way through Prague, Liszt recommended op.1 to the Leipzig publisher F. Kistner, who published it in 1851.
At the beginning of the summer, permission for the institute was granted and on 8 August 1848 it began its activities. Smetana supplemented his income from the generally prospering institute with fees from private lessons, especially in aristocratic families (this included visits to the castle to play to the deposed Emperor Ferdinand V). Thanks to this he was able to start a family. On 27 August 1849 he married Kate?ina Kolá?ová, who bore him four daughters, three of whom, however, died by 1856. The public concerts of the pupils from the institute, with Smetana's participation, became a respected part of Prague musical life. In addition Smetana took part in the musical life of the town as a chamber player and as an organizer of chamber concerts. In 1854 he participated in the Beethoven celebration, in 1856 in the even grander Mozart celebrations, when his piano playing was widely praised by the critics. On 26 February 1855 he organized his first and successful independent concert where he made his début as a conductor, giving the première of his Triumf-Sinfonie.
Smetana was drawn into public events especially by the group of Prague artists, Concordia, founded in 1846. And it was more an attempt to attract attention to himself than a wish to manifest deeply felt political convictions which led him to the production of occasional pieces in the revolutionary year 1848. He dedicated two piano marches to two quite different organizations, the National Guard (organized by the state to protect persons and property) and to the radical student legion, which was ultimately banned by the state. His unison march with piano Píse? svobody (‘Song of Freedom’), his only piece up to 1860 with a Czech text, did not, however, come before the public. After the marches, which were his first compositions to be published and one of which also appeared orchestrated by the bandmaster Jan Pavlis, followed the publication in Prague of his Trois polkas de salon and Trois polkas poètiques. These initiated a whole series culminating at the end of the 1870s with the ?eské tance (‘Czech Dances’), which followed a type of idealized dance ‘in the manner of Chopin's mazurkas’, he noted in his diary in 1859. He also contributed to the fashionable genre of albumleaves, which he later arranged in cycles. Smetana hoped for a response to his work and sent some of his pieces for an opinion to his models Clara Schumann and Liszt.
After his first substantial orchestral work, the Jubel-Ouvertüre (1848–9), he completed his first and only symphony in 1854. This Triumf-Sinfonie, intended to be dedicated to the marriage of Franz Joseph I with Elisabeth of Bavaria, is also just another example of his attempts to attain artistic and social prestige. His finest work at this point in his life was his Piano Trio in G minor. Smetana was hurt by the lack of comprehension among the Prague critics after the première. All the more satisfaction, then, he derived from Liszt's recognition of this work. At last he had occasion to get to know him personally over a longer period when Liszt was in Prague rehearsing his Missa solemnis zur Einweihung der Basilika in Gran, which he conducted on 28 September 1856. By that time, however, Smetana had decided to leave Prague and take up the offer mediated by the pianist Alexander Dreyschock to become a music teacher in the Swedish town of Göteborg.
3. In search of recognition abroad: Sweden, 1856–61.
‘Prague did not wish to acknowledge me, so I left it’, Smetana informed his parents in a letter of 23 December 1856, two months after his arrival in Sweden (16 October 1856). Although he had not fared badly financially in Prague, teaching in Göteborg, a commercially rich town, brought him more money. Apart from private lessons, immediately on his arrival he opened a music institute, and one year later a ladies’ singing school. In the mid-1840s Prague was a city of culture which fêted Berlioz, Liszt and the Schumanns and with a theatre which, in the 1850s, was a meeting point where all types of opera (Meyerbeer, Verdi and Wagner) were performed. In comparison Göteborg was merely provincial. ‘People are here continually firmly trapped in antediluvian artistic opinions. Mozart for them is the subject of unbounded admiration but at the same time they don't understand him. They are frightened of Beethoven, they proclaim Mendelssohn as indigestible and they are unaware of any more recent composers' (Smetana to Liszt, 10 April 1857). He added: ‘Here I have a splendid opportunity to work for progress and to cultivate the taste of the people and there is an impact which I could never have achieved in Prague’. In the period of neo-absolutism after 1848 in which run-of-the-mill institutionalism reigned, Prague could provide no new job opportunities. However, Göteborg to some extent fulfilled Smetana's goal of becoming a conductor. As director he had at his disposal the music society Harmoniska Salskapet, through which, despite its being amateur, he could promote his artistic orientation. This is evident from the very names of the composers whose works he performed both at concerts of vocal-instrumental music and at the chamber cycles he initiated. His programmes included the works of Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Rubinstein, Gade and not surprisingly Smetana. It was Franz Liszt who drew Smetana out of the artistic isolation which he suffered in Göteborg. The relationship of teacher and pupil, which Smetana maintained towards Liszt all his life, was no doubt strengthened by Smetana's two visits to Liszt in Weimar. Smetana's direction was determined by Liszt's ideas and above all by the quantity and character of the music which he now had the opportunity of getting to know. On the way to Göteborg for a second season Smetana visited Liszt in Weimar, where he heard the first performance of Liszt's Faust Symphony. ‘Regard me as your most passionate supporter of our artistic direction who in word and deed stands for its holy truth and also works for its aims’, he wrote to Liszt on 24 October 1858, a year after this first trip to Weimar. Shortly before a second visit to Liszt in Weimar (where he heard the Tristan prelude for the first time), Smetana was among the participants at the Künsterversammlung in Leipzig in June 1859 celebrating the 25th anniversary of the founding of Schumann's Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, an occasion where the Allgemeines Deutsches Musikverein was founded and the ‘Neudeutsche Schule’ was proclaimed. In the years 1858–61 Smetana returned intensively to his work as a composer, exploiting ideas from these trips, and writing his first three symphonic poems, Richard III, Walensteins Lager and Hakon Jarl. Their orchestral performances had to wait until his return to Prague.
During his stay in Sweden there were important changes in Smetana's personal life. The northern climate had badly affected the tuberculosis of his wife Kate?ina, who died in Dresden on 19 April 1859, on the way home to Bohemia. During a holiday in Bohemia Smetana became acquainted with Bettina (Barbara) Ferdinandi (the sister-in-law of his brother Karel) and returned to Sweden already with the promise of marriage. These circumstances strengthened his ties to his homeland and so, after his second marriage (10 July 1860), he set off in the autumn of 1860 with Bettina and his surviving daughter Žofie to Sweden for a final season. It was not only personal reasons which drew Smetana back to his homeland. Throughout all this time he had carefully followed events at home (he read the Prague newspaper Bohemia) and the news which especially interested him was that of the imminent formation of a permanent Czech professional theatre, the Czech Provisional Theatre. Hopes appeared of new possibilities of employment, strengthened by political developments arising from the promises made in the emperor's October Diploma of 1860. In any event the pettiness of Göteborg's environment had already become unbearable. ‘I follow other goals. … I cannot bury myself in Göteborg. … I must attempt finally to publish my compositions and create for myself the opportunity to gain new ideas. … Therefore up into the world and soon!’ (diary, 31 March 1861). After the financial failure of two final attempts at the career of a travelling piano virtuoso (Stockholm, Norrköping, Cologne, Leiden), Smetana returned home to Bohemia for good.
4. In national life, 1862–74.
In order to draw attention to himself Smetana organized two concerts in Prague in January 1862, a piano recital and an orchestral concert. The latter, at which the premières of the symphonic poems Richard III and Wallensteins Lager were given, demonstrated that his name was still not familiar enough to fill what was then the largest concert hall in Prague, on the Žofín island, which he had hired for the occasion. In the spring of 1862 he went once again for almost three months to Göteborg (March to May 1862). In October 1863, together with his friend the experienced teacher Ferdinand Heller, he opened a music institute in Prague, which was active until 1866. Vigorously Smetana set about making a new artistic existence for himself in Prague. Through his pupil and later propagandist Jan Ludevít Procházka he was initiated into Czech society of the M?š?anská Beseda (Townspeople's Society) and made his views and new ideas known in discussions at the regular Tuesday meetings of the Czech élite in the home of Rudolf Thurn-Taxis. During Smetana's youth, teaching in the Austrian higher education system was given exclusively in German. Smetana's education, like that of all Czechs of his generation, had consequently been in German with the result that he expressed himself more naturally in German. The decision to engage in Czech national life and identify with the aims of the national movement made him aware of his linguistic inadequacies. Surviving exercises in Czech grammar demonstrate his attempts at remedying this and he now began writing in Czech as a matter of course. He commented in this diary: ‘In the newly growing self-awareness of our nation I too must also make an effort to complete my study of our beautiful language so that I, educated from childhood only in German, can express myself easily, in speech and in writing, just as easily in Czech as in German’.
Smetana's position in Czech society slowly became more secure. In 1863 his biography was published, for the first time, in the music periodical Dalibor. In 1863–5 he worked as choirmaster of the recently established Czech choral society Hlahol, the body for which most of his choral works were written. In 1864–5 he worked also as the music critic of the most important Czech daily newspaper, Národní listy. In 1863 he was chosen as first chairman of the music section of the artists’ society Um?lecká Beseda (Artistic Society), which had recently been founded to promote Czech artistic culture. Smetana's first important action here in the season 1864–5 was an attempt to establish subscription orchestral concerts. Partly for financial reasons and partly through lack of interest by audiences more used to the so-called mixed programmes, only three concerts took place. The most prominent event of the Um?lecká Beseda in 1864 was the celebration, on 23 April, of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare, at which Smetana conducted Berlioz's dramatic symphony Roméo et Juliette and his own march for orchestra for a procession of 230 characters from Shakespeare. On 20 April 1866, at Liszt's behest, he conducted the latter's oratorio Die Legende von der heiligen Elisabeth at a concert organized by the Um?lecká Beseda.
Not all of Smetana's attempts at establishing himself were crowned with success. In 1865 he failed to be chosen as director of the Prague Conservatory in succession to Kittl; nor was he awarded the Austrian state scholarship he applied for. However, on 15 September 1866 he won the position that he longed for most: after political changes in the theatre administration he was appointed principal conductor of the Royal Provincial Czech Theatre known as the Provisional Theatre, the first permanent Czech professional stage, which had begun its activities in the autumn of 1862. Smetana was able to take further the work of his predecessor, the conductor Jan Nepomuk Maýr, who in a relatively short time had built up an ensemble and a permanent orchestra for this new Prague stage. And like Maýr, Smetana had to make compromises because of the theatre's precarious finances and the taste of the Czech theatrical community. Occasionally he had to descend from the lofty attitudes he had espoused earlier in his position as music critic of the Národní listy. Nevertheless he managed to expand the repertory, and to continue to perform classics of operatic literature (Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven) as well as Slavonic operas (Glinka, Moniuszko). Understandably he performed a large number of new works by Czech composers (Blodek, Bendl, Rozkošný, Šebor and others) inspired by the existence of the theatre. In 1872 he was also able to establish a singing school attached to the theatre. For eight years he worked in the theatre, for the last two as artistic director. The position of conductor with an orchestra at his disposal allowed him to realize his ideal of subscription orchestral concerts. These he began on 5 December 1869 with his theatre orchestra. Later he was able to create a larger body for this purpose by combining the orchestras of the Czech and German theatres (from 1873 as the orchestral association Filharmonia), taking turns at the podium with the conductor of the German theatre Ludwig Slansky.
Smetana was well aware of the crucial role which Czech opera could play in national life and realized that a permanent professional stage would need a body of new Czech operas. With a few exceptions none so far existed. This need had also been foreseen by Count Jan Harrach, who in February 1861 announced a competition for the best two Czech operas, comic and serious. Smetana began his search for a libretto and in 1862–3 composed his first opera Branibo?i v ?echách (‘The Brandenburgers in Bohemia’). He entered it anonymously in the Harrach competition under the motto ‘Music – the language of feeling, word – the language of thought’, and, after three years of deliberations by the jury, it was eventually declared the winner, on 25 March 1866. By then, however, Smetana had already rehearsed and given its première at the Provisional Theatre (on 5 January 1866), thus marking his début as an operatic conductor. Its success with a public eager for Czech original operas led to the theatre's immediately accepting a second opera by Smetana, Prodaná nev?sta (‘The Bartered Bride’), which was already complete by that time. Although the work went through many modifications after its unpromising première on 30 May 1866 (overshadowed by the impending war with Prussia) it began to be gradually accepted by the public as a model Czech opera fulfilling the ideal of opera as representative of the nation; as a comic opera, however, it was sometimes felt to be too lightweight for such a serious purpose.
The première of a third opera by Smetana, Dalibor (16 May 1868), took place as part of the celebrations for laying the foundation stone of the National Theatre, the building planned to replace the tiny Provisional Theatre. The lack of success of the opera and of his later revision in 1870 is testimony to the fact that the Czech public could not identify with the Czech tragic hero of his opera: Dalibor was considered too passive and did not correspond to the contemporary ideal of the Czech knight and the historical awareness of the times. The opera was castigated as an exemplar of Wagnerian polemics which, as it flooded through Europe, affected the Czech lands in its full intensity at the beginning of the 1870s. After the first decade of uninterrupted freedom of Czech opera on the professional stage and with the prospect of the opening of a grand new permanent Czech theatre, the National Theatre (which, however, did not take place until 1881), this was a time of heightened interest in the future of Czech national opera, a time of stock-taking. The variety of types in Czech operas (drawing on French, Italian and German traditions), a variety also evident in Smetana’s first operas, did not make any easier the decisions of the Czech musical public in their search for a Czech operatic style. Furthermore, Smetana who was by no means accepted at the time as a national composer, brought no new operas of his before the public for six years after Dalibor.
In these polemics the aesthetician Otakar Hostinský was the Wagnerian. For him as an adherent of the idea of progress Wagner now represented the most advanced stage in the evolution of opera. He wanted Czech national opera to be created on the basis of Wagner's theories (which he regarded as supranational) and thus go to the forefront of European musical development. At the same time the declamatory style of Wagner's voice parts suggested to him that correct declamation of the text could provide an opportunity for a national element in opera since he regarded speech as a distinctive and exclusive characteristic of the nation. He saw Smetana's Dalibor as the beginning of this ‘correct’ direction. The position of the anti-Wagnerians was formulated by the singing teacher František Pivoda. He defended the principle of Italian opera in which the chief dramatic means was the expression of the human voice in song. Wagner's operas, he contended, lacked this particular resource on account of the through-composed role of the orchestra, which undermined the dominance of the human voice and, according to him, negated the principles of opera as such. Wagner he regarded as unsuitable as a model for Czech national opera and the orchestra in Smetana's Dalibor seemed to him Wagnerian.
Used in arguments both for and against Wagner, Smetana defended his viewpoint with an unshaken faith in his own originality as an artist. He described this in a letter to the conductor Adolf ?ech (4 December 1882): ‘I do not write in the style of any famous composer, I admire only their greatness, taking for myself everything that I recognize as good and beautiful and above all truthful in art. You have known this of me for a long time but others do not and think that I am introducing Wagnerism!!! I've got my hands full with Smetana-ism, as long as this style is honest’. At the time of the sharpest polemics he composed the ceremonial opera Libuše (1869–72), followed by the salon opera Dv? vdovy (‘The Two Widows’, 1873–4). Polemics in the daily and specialist press were not of course only purely artistic affairs but also reflected different cultural and political preoccupations of the time and even personal aversions. In the quarrels about his position as Kapellmeister of the Czech theatre Smetana received support from colleagues and the public. In 1872 a petition of Czech artists was drawn up in favour of his continuing in the theatre. Smetana was finally reappointed, now as artistic director, with an increased salary. After the première of The Two Widows on 27 March 1874 his adherents ceremonially handed over a decorated baton. But the dénouement was unexpected and for Smetana fateful. The sudden loss of his hearing in autumn 1874 meant that he was forced to give up his place in the theatre. In his letter of resignation (7 September 1874) to the deputy chairman of the theatre board Antonín ?ížek, Smetana traced the course of his loss of hearing. What began as extraneous noises in his ears in July 1874 became a permanent buzzing and soon he was unable to distinguish individual sounds. At the beginning of October he lost all hearing in his right ear, on 20 October in his left. Treatment, based on quiet and isolation from all sounds, did not help. His former aristocratic pupils organized a concert in 1875 whose takings enabled him to travel to consult foreign specialists (Smetana later thanked them with the piano cycle Rêves); a collection was also organized by his friends in Sweden. But this trip similarly brought no positive results.
5. Final years, 1874–84.
Smetana was granted an annual pension of 1200 gulden by the theatre consortium in exchange for permission to stage his operas without payment. In order to reduce his expenses the whole family moved in June 1876 from Prague to live with Smetana's oldest daughter Žofie, married to the forester Josef Schwarz, in Jabkenice near Mladá Boleslav. Josef Srb-Debrnov became a self-sacrificing intermediary in various negotiations in Prague, acting as a type of personal secretary until the end of Smetana's life. Contact with the theatre was made principally through the conductor at the Provisional Theatre, Adolf ?ech. Deafness in no way crushed Smetana's spirit or diminished his musical imagination; on the contrary, throughout all the final decade of his life, he took advantage of being able to compose undisturbed. Immediately after becoming deaf, while still in Prague, he completed the first two movements, Vyšehrad and Vltava, of his symphonic cycle Má vlast (‘My Fatherland’); the remaining four movements were written in Jabkenice over the next five years. During his final decade he also wrote the two string quartets (the first of which, subtitled ‘Z mého života’ – ‘From my Life’, movingly portrays the onslaught of deafness), both series of Czech Dances for piano, and the song cycle Ve?erní písn? (‘Evening Songs’). Choruses of the period include the demanding Píse? na mo?i (‘Song of the Sea’) and two pieces written for the 20th anniversary of the Prague Hlahol, V?no (‘Dedication’) and Modlitba (‘Prayer’). Most importantly, there were three more operas: Hubi?ka (‘The Kiss’, 1875–6), which at its première on 7 November 1876 immediately won an overwhelming ovation, Tajemství (‘The Secret’, 1877–8) and ?ertova st?na (‘The Devil's Wall’, 1879–82).
In the Czech musical and cultural world Smetana gradually became recognized as the chief representative of a Czech national music. This process of equating Smetana's personal style with a national style was consolidated through the second half of the 1870s and continued after his death. He himself was fully aware of the role which some of his works had begun to fulfil; the more this awareness grew among the Czech public, the greater became his sense of obligation. A characteristic attitude can be found in a letter to Ludevít Procházka of 31 August 1882, when he refused to compose a comic insertion for The Two Widows requested by the German arranger of the opera:
“I must seek to keep that honourable and glorious position which my compositions have gained for me in my nation and in my country. – According to my merits and according to my efforts I am a Czech composer and the creator of the Czech style in the branches of dramatic and symphonic music – exclusively Czech. … I cannot work with such a frivolous text; such music disgusts me and, if I were to do it, I would only prove to the whole world that I write whatever they want from me for money.”
Smetana began to acquire various honours. He was made an honorary member of many musical societies, and at the beginning of the 1880s Czech society prepared several significant celebrations as a sign of artistic recognition. On 4 January 1880 in memory of the 50th anniversary of his first appearance as a performer a gala concert took place with the premières of the symphonic poems Tábor and Blaník (the two final parts of Má vlast) and Evening Songs. In September 1880 Smetana's birthplace organized the ceremonial unveiling of a plaque. On 5 May 1882 an exceptional event in the history of Czech opera took place – the 100th performance of The Bartered Bride. Its success was so great that a second ‘100th performance’ had to be given. Similarly celebratory and exceptional events included the first collective performance of the symphonic cycle Má vlast on 5 November 1882. For Smetana, however, a particular satisfaction was the ceremonial opening of the National Theatre on 11 June 1881 with his Libuše, which had won the competition for this purpose. Although he had finished it in 1872, Smetana had patiently waited for the completion of the theatre and not allowed it to be performed before then. After the fire which demolished the theatre soon after its opening he too, despite his age and condition, took part in fund-raising activities. His concert in Písek on 4 October 1881 in aid of the rebuilding of the theatre was his last appearance as a pianist. The theatre reopened with Libuše on 18 November 1883. In the following year celebrations for Smetana's 60th birthday began to be prepared, the gala concert and the banquet in his honour however took place without him. His worsening health meant that in April he had to be transferred to the Prague Lunatic Asylum, where he died on 12 May 1884. The orchestral cycle Pražský karneval (‘The Prague Carnival’) and the opera Viola based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (which he had begun in 1874 before The Kiss and resumed in 1883) remained incomplete at his death.
Smetana is regarded as the ‘father of Czech opera’ (and indeed of Czech ‘modern’ music) not because he was the first composer to write operas in Czech, but because his operas were the first to stay in the Czech repertory and thus form the basis for a continuous tradition which has lasted to this day. Professional composers such as František Škroup wrote operas in Czech from the 1820s onwards (Škroup himself was preceded by half a century of semi-amateur attempts), but apart from Škroup's The Tinker none was given more than a couple of times.
The opening of the Czech Provisional Theatre in 1862 provided the greatest incentive towards the establishment of a permanent Czech operatic tradition. The first opera given there was Cherubini's Les deux journées – there was no suitable Czech piece – but 19 years later when the Czech National Theatre was finally opened, it was with Smetana's Libuše (1881). In between these dates all but one of Smetana's completed operas were performed at the theatre or its summer alternatives. Smetana was not alone in taking advantage of the new possibilities. Even before his first opera The Brandenburgers had been staged in 1866 a German opera by his older contemporary Skuherský had been translated into Czech and given at the Provisional Theatre, and The Templars in Moravia by Smetana's younger contemporary Šebor had narrowly anticipated Smetana's première. As well as Šebor, other Czech composers of the new generation such as Bendl, Rozkošný and Blodek were all enthusiastically composing operas – their premières mingled with those of Smetana – but of their operas only a single one, Blodek's unassuming one-acter In the Well, has managed to maintain a place in the Czech repertory. It is the canon of Smetana's eight completed operas which dominate the early history of Czech opera and consciously provided models for his contemporaries and successors.
Smetana's eight operas fall into three groups: three serious operas based on Czech history and myths (The Brandenburgers in Bohemia, Dalibor and Libuše); two comic operas conceived as opéras comiques (The Bartered Bride and The Two Widows) – the spoken dialogue was later adapted to recitative; and the three final operas all to librettos by Eliška Krásnohorská. Libuše, with its static monumentality, is best described as a sort of musical tableau vivant (a popular genre in Prague at that time). Paradoxically the other two overtly nationalist operas are the nearest to common European patterns: The Brandenburgers in Bohemia a rather clumsy French grand opera, and Dalibor a straightforward tragedy with the death of hero and heroine at the end.
The five other operas share a common thread. All are comedies, the later ones increasingly serious, and all concern the healing of a central relationship. This relationship has been soured either by a failure of communication (Jeník and Ma?enka in The Bartered Bride), or by the passing of years – Smetana's later central couples are distinctly middle-aged, one of them usually a widow or a widower, or long unmarried. Healing is achieved in The Two Widows by shock treatment, but in the Krásnohorská operas it is internal, and suggested by physical metaphor: in the deep forest (The Kiss), the dark tunnel (The Secret) or by a perilous crossing of the swollen waters of the Vltava (The Devil's Wall). Such plots have little to do with contemporary operatic models and much more to do with Shakespeare's comedies and romances or with Mozart's Die Zauberflöte: the Viennese musical, magical ‘quest’ plays transplanted easily to the Prague stage and their Czech successors were a dominant strain in Czech theatre of the generation before Smetana and Krásnohorská.
Smetana's mission to create a canon of Czech operas did not prevent his drawing on existing traditions of European opera. His attitude towards these can be inferred from the reviews that he wrote in Národní listy (1864–5) and from the repertory he maintained and introduced at the Provisional Theatre during his time there as chief conductor. Most of the objections in his reviews were to the Italian repertory, which he found faded and dramatically inept. German opera – in the language of the oppressor – was understandably unpopular (and was anyway available in Prague at the German opera house), so Smetana sought to move towards the inclusion of more Slavonic repertory and, despite the cramped resources, tiny chorus and orchestra, towards the French repertory.
There is some echo of French grand opera particularly in his early works. The Brandenburgers in Bohemia, for instance, is based on the Scribe-Meyerbeerian canvas of large-scale historical events against which the characters enact their own dramas. The build-up of atmosphere of Act 1 scene ii, with its genre choruses, ballet and ‘revolutionary chorus’, has similarities with Auber's La muette de Portici rather than with later Meyerbeer works. There is for instance no exploitation of double-chorus confrontations which the plot would suggest (in fact, apart from a single soldier, no musical depiction of any Brandenburger). Most of these ‘French’ traits in The Brandenburgers, however, can be traced back more to the librettist than to the composer.
Where Smetana made compositional choices he seems to have taken Italian rather than French models. There are several cantabile–caballetta arias and duets in The Brandenburgers, and the outer acts both make use of the concertato–stretta formula. Indeed such traits are sometimes present in Smetana's later operas: Act 1 of Smetana's most advanced opera, Dalibor, concludes with a cabaletta duet, and there are elements of the concertato reactive ensembles in all his later operas. Even when, in the later operas, the repetitions characterizing a cabaletta structure disappear, the slow–fast cantabile–cabaletta design underlies some of the solo arias and duets. Such survivals are puzzling in view of Smetana's stated aversions, but can be partly explained by the conditions in which he worked. Most of the singers at the Provisional Theatre were trained in the Italian school and felt more comfortable with its traditions. Smetana, furthermore, regularly complied with their requests for extra arias. Thus Act 3 of The Brandenburgers, dramatically far from clear, is further confused by two specifically requested insert arias. The first, for the baritone Josef Lev (as Jan Tausendmark), showed off Lev’s cantabile legato so well that there was a danger of this villain appearing too sympathetic.
Such habits cannot be dismissed as the composer's lack of assertiveness at the beginning of his operatic career: in the Hamburg revisions to The Two Widows (1882) he added a cabaletta ending for Anežka's aria as requested; by The Secret he was still adding music for Josef Lev, for instance the 115-bar expansion to his Act 2 aria added after the première. Smetana's admiration for Lev's especial gifts, which were wholly lyrical and undramatic, and his tailoring of leading baritone parts to them, meant that after The Brandenburgers baritone villains virtually disappeared from his operas. Similarly the fact that the Provisional Theatre lacked dramatic sopranos and Heldentenors as permanent members of the ensemble, meant that Smetana generally avoided writing for these heavier voices in his operas: he learnt his lesson in Dalibor. And for all his reservations about italianate traits he included coloratura when appropriate to the singer. The leading Czech prima donna Eleonora z Ehrenberg? did not hide her contempt for a part she was allocated in The Bartered Bride (Ma?enka) with no scope for her talents. Thereafter Smetana made sure to give something to please her (such as Jitka's melismatic flourishes over the Act 2 soldiers' chorus in Dalibor or the trill-laden part of the First Reaper in Libuše). This also accounts for the presence in The Kiss of Bar?e's ‘lark song’, written expressly for the coloratura soubrette talents of Marie Laušmannová. The small and fairly stable group of singers assembled at the Provisional Theatre during Smetana's time there had a lasting effect on his future voice typing – even in his final opera The Devil's Wall he was writing with their specific voices in mind. In general Smetana confined himself to light, lyrical voices; and after the unfieldable demands of The Brandenburgers (three tenors, including a Heldentenor) and Dalibor, he and his last librettist Eliška Krásnohorská were careful to write for what was on hand.
The role of Krásnohorská as Smetana's last librettist was a particularly dominant one. She chose the subjects of his last three completed operas (two of them her invention), determined the voice types and the conventions. She believed in ensembles (as she wrote forcefully to Fibich when negotiating a libretto of Blaník with him), and consequently included many in her librettos. She determined where there was duet writing, where there were formal solos. Smetana took what was given him (he mentioned that he had left out only four lines of Act 1 in The Secret) and, apart from obliging favoured singers, made no specific requests other than for more ‘comedy’ in the final opera.
Most of their work was done when Smetana was at his most vulnerable – deaf, and with rapidly deteriorating health – so that it is not surprising that he was so passive. However, the scanty evidence available suggests that Smetana was no more assertive in his relationships with earlier librettists. The texts for Dalibor and Libuše were written ahead of any commission; similarly it would seem Smetana had no great say in the subject matter of the two texts he received from Karel Sabina, The Brandenburgers and The Bartered Bride, apart from specifying a comic opera of the latter and, for the former, a serious historical opera that would comply with the conditions for the Harrach competition. Conventions of ensemble and simultaneous singing tended to vary with the librettists. Sabina, lacking the time, patience and skills for the equal-length lines needed, provided little usable material for ensembles. Thus The Bartered Bride has few ensembles (compared, for instance, to The Two Widows, which benefited from Emanuel Züngel's much greater experience as an opera translator and versifier), and those in The Brandenburgers had to be eked out from scanty and unpromising material. Dalibor has so few ensembles that one suspects that its librettist, Josef Wenzig, conceived it originally as a play. Only in monumental Libuše did Wenzig attempt to provide material for ensembles.
Smetana wrote opera in a medium that was politicized almost the moment he began. In his preamble for his Czech opera competition, Count Harrach had suggested that use should be made of Czech country life and ‘old chorales’ to establish a Czech identity. This was a position which became associated with the conservative faction of Czech politics (the staro?eši), whereas Smetana belonged to the progressive wing (the mlado?eši) and was against the quotation of Czech folksong. Accordingly there are almost no direct quotations in his operas and the few that he employs – for instance the pastorella lullaby in The Kiss – are there for specific reasons. There are, however, pseudo-folksongs and/or choruses in all of Smetana's operas. The suggestion of folksong was usually made by the use of strophic structures, repetitive tunes and variable metres or tempos (a slow, ruminative beginning accelerating into a more regular and faster continuation, e.g. Ludiše's ‘folksong’ in The Brandenburgers).
Smetana may well have decided that his ‘progressive’, Lisztian orientation (which resulted for instance in the near monothematic construction of Dalibor) was not compatible with the quotation of folk music. But a crucial factor was that the music he imbibed in his youth was popular dance music from the town rather than genuine Czech folk music from the country. It is dance rhythms rather than folk tunes that provide the closest link between Smetana and vernacular music. A number of dances are specifically named, for instance the sko?ná and the furiant in The Bartered Bride. He also made frequent use of the sousedská (a ländler-type waltz), but the most common dance of all in his operas was the polka, whose rhythms most clearly mirrored the stress patterns of the Czech language. Thus fast 2/4 pieces with well stressed beats and polka-like rhythmic figures underlie many of Smetana's operas from The Bartered Bride onwards. Lukáš's ironic serenade to Vendulka in The Kiss is ‘à la polka’. When the countryfolk celebrate at the end of The Two Widows, it is with a named polka, but many unnamed polkas (specifically allowed for in the predominantly trochaic libretto), can be heard throughout the opera, most noticeably in the Act 2 prelude and the associated duet for the two widows.
Other sources of ‘Czechness’ reside in the setting of the Czech language itself but, at least in Smetana's early operas, this is compromised by his poor word-setting (only by his fourth opera Libuše did he manage to avoid mis-stressings), and by the fact that in two operas, Dalibor and Libuše, the Czech text follows the rhythms and metres of the German originals. Although in the later operas the word-setting is fully idiomatic, Krásnohorská's penchant for high-style iambics (alien to Czech's distinctive first-syllable stress) led to less natural-sounding word-setting than Smetana achieved with the trochees in The Two Widows. If from the mid-1870s Czech audiences perceived Smetana's operas musically as particularly ‘Czech’ it may not merely be because of the use of dance rhythms or idiomatic setting of the Czech language but because familiarity with The Bartered Bride led to Smetana's personal voice being taken as the clearest expression of ‘Czechness’ in music.
7. Orchestral works.
When in 1848–9 Smetana wrote his first extended orchestral composition, the Jubel-Overture, he was aware of the need to extend his technique in this medium. Copies have survived that he made of passages from various scores with interesting orchestration (Beethoven's symphonies nos.2 and 9 and Leonora no.1 Overture op.138, Mendelssohn's overtures Die schöne Melusine and Meerestille und glückliche Fahrt, Weber's Jubel-Overture and overture to Der Freischütz and Berlioz's arrangement of Meyer's March marocaine) as well as symphonic fragments and sketches culminating in the composition of the Triumf-Sinfonie in 1853–4. Known during this period as a teacher and chamber player, Smetana longed above all to be recognized as a composer by fellow artists and society. The external stimulus for the symphony was the marriage of Emperor Franz Joseph I with Elisabeth of Bavaria, and Smetana sought, unsuccessfully, official acceptance for the dedication of the composition at the Viennese court. The celebratory intent was underlined by his use of Haydn's melody for the Austrian National Anthem of the time. For future performances of Smetana's only symphony this turned out to be a fatal decision in view of the various political meanings which became attached to the anthem in the course of time. In the first half of the century hymns were used as the basis for variations or overtures. Smetana, however, wanted to show off his craft in the elevated form of the symphony. He employed the melody of the hymn as a solution to a compositional problem: to unify the four movements of the symphony and to reach the monumental climax of the finale. Haydn's tune first emerges in a brief hint at the conclusion of the development of the first movement; its first strain is lyrically transformed as the second subject of the slow movement; its full version is displayed in the grandiose coda of the finale. While its identity as a melody is preserved, all the movements have their own independent thematic logic. Smetana performed the symphony at his début as a conductor on 26 February 1855 and for the second time in Göteborg in 1860. It was performed in 1882 by Adolf ?ech, at whose instigation Smetana, who continued to value the work, revised it and gave it the Czech title of Slavnostní symfonie.
Smetana's return to orchestral music in the years 1858–61, during his time in Sweden, brought a change of direction in the composition of symphonic poems. He wrote three: Richard III, Wallensteins Lager and Hakon Jarl, based respectively on plays by Shakespeare, Schiller and Oehlenschläger. This direction in his composition, however, is also evident in the piano sketch Macbeth, the unfinished piano sketches for Cid, the plan to elaborate an earlier fragment as Wikinger-Fahrt and in the unrealized plan to compose a Wallensteins Tod (after Schiller); it also possibly explains the musical sketches designated ‘Maria Stuart’. Smetana's visit to Liszt in Weimar 3–7 September 1857 provided a powerful stimulus for this new orientation, during which time not only the strength of Listz's thoughts but also his music left an indelible impression on him. It was here that he heard the premières of Liszt's Faust Symphony and his tone poem Die Ideale as well as other pieces in piano arrangements. Also available at the time were Listz's first six symphonic poems, which had been published a year earlier by Breitkopf & Härtel. Liszt had presented Smetana with one of these, Tasso, during his stay in Prague in September 1856. Smetana's response was all the more powerful since some of Liszt's compositional devices were already emerging as tendencies in Smetana's earlier music. Such shared features include unity within a variety of character, thematic transformation and the triumphal conclusion of large forms. Decisive for the whole of Smetana's output is the notion that a poetic thought or programme is changed into a completely musical form (in Richard III and Hakon Jarl on the basis of the sonata principle, with Wallensteins Lager on the basis of a symphonic cycle) always with its own autonomous musical logic. It is interesting that Smetana did not at first designate these pieces symphonic poems. Of Richard III he wrote to Josef Proksch on 9 September 1858 that it was ‘a composition in one movement, neither an overture nor a symphony: in short something still to be named’. After completing the first two, Smetana tried hard to get them performed, but Liszt did not keep the promise given to him on his second visit to Weimar in June 1859. Richard III and Wallensteins Lager were performed only during Smetana's first orchestral concert on 5 January 1862, on his return to Prague (as ‘fantasies for large orchestra’); Hakon Jarl was given (as a ‘symphonic poem’) on 24 February 1864.
Occupied by operatic work, except for occasional pieces, Smetana returned to orchestral music only in the middle of the 1870s with Má vlast. With the ‘Swedish’ poems Smetana had espoused the Lisztian idea that a symphonic poem – by means of striking musical ideas and their mutual relationships – takes the thoughts behind the existing literary or graphic masterpieces further as part of a new synthesis (rather than as the basis for mere musical illustration or a musical duplication of the programme). When he began composing Má vlast, however, Smetana had been serving Czech national emancipation for more than ten years and, in accordance with it, formulated his own programme for the cycle. The first traces of the conception go back to 1872, to a time when he was completing his opera Libuše. Although Smetana's conception crystallized only gradually, the basic idea did not change. This was of a cycle of symphonic poems celebrating the homeland headed by Vyšehrad and Vltava (respectively a rocky promontory in Prague with mythic associations, and the Bohemian river that runs through Prague). These two pieces were completed in full score in the second half of 1874, i.e. shortly after the composer went deaf. Another pair, Šárka (the name of a female warrior, well known from early Czech legends) and Z ?eských luh? a háj? (‘From Bohemian Fields and Groves’), followed a year later. After some years, in 1878–9, Smetana returned to what had seemed a closed tetralogy, expanding it with two more symphonic poems, Tábor and Blaník (respectively the names of the Hussite town and the magic mountain in which Czech warriors, according to legend, wait to come to the rescue of their homeland). Both were a celebration of Hussitism (the Czech Hussite chorale ‘Kdož jste boží bojovníci – ‘Those who are Warriors of God’ – was used both as building material and emblematically), which nationally aware Czechs of the time regarded as one of the historical periods which could serve as a basis for a contemporary, nationally charged ideal. With this Smetana completed the monumental cycle which is a unique musical apotheosis of the homeland, of the country in which the existence of the nation is rooted, and a celebration of the countryside which for the emergent modern Czech nation was filled with mythical and historical reminiscences all bound up with a vision of the future. The individual movements of Má vlast were first performed separately. The cycle was heard as a whole for the first time on 5 November 1882 and as such was acclaimed by the Czech musical public as representing Czech national style. Smetana dedicated the cycle to the city of Prague.
Smetana's thoughts for a further symphonic cycle can be found in the year 1880 in a letter to Ludevít Procházka (25 February): ‘I would write … orchestral symphonic poems under the title “Böhmischer Karneval” or “Prager Karneval”, in which not only Czech dances would occur but also small scenes and characters, for example from my operas, as masques’. In 1883 he began composition, but managed to complete only the first section, the Introduction and Polonaise.
8. Chamber music.
Not many of Smetana's works were inspired by real incidents in his life but it was chamber music that became for him the area which, as an intimate conversation between instruments, belonged to the private sphere. The first of these works, the Piano Trio in G minor, arose, according to Smetana in 1855, as a reaction to the death of his first-born child, the musically talented daughter Bed?iška (Friederike). The three-movement composition sums up the composer's musical thoughts in a large-scale form which, before the composition of Smetana's first symphonic poems, was represented at the time only by the student Sonata in G minor for piano of 1846 and by the Triumf-Sinfonie. Thematic variation work, thematic affinities, reminiscences and transformation ensure the unity of the work as a whole as well as the unity of music of contrasting characters within individual movements. The trio was performed on 3 December 1855 with the composer at the piano. For contemporary critics the work's ‘rhapsodic’ nature went against the aesthetic ideal for chamber music of the time but nevertheless its reception was not as unfavourable as Smetana and later commentators would have us believe. In May 1857 Smetana shortened the first and third movements and performed the trio in a new version for the first time in 1858 in Göteborg.
The impulse for the creation of a further chamber work, the First String Quartet ‘Z mého života’ (‘From my Life’), written in 1876 and thus 20 years after the Piano Trio, came most probably from Ludevít Procházka. Procházka, a tireless promoter of Smetana's music, was one of the founders of the permanent institution for chamber concerts in Prague, the Czech-German Chamber Music Society, at whose first concert on 19 February 1877 Smetana's work was announced. ‘I wanted to depict in music the course of my life … the composition is almost only a private one and so purposely written for four instruments which, as in a small circle of friends, talk among themselves about what has oppressed me so significantly’, Smetana wrote to Josef Srb on 12 April 1878 in a letter in which he supplies the first of the five extant outlines of his programme for the work. Thus arose a work that is almost unique in the tradition of chamber music by virtue of its subjective nature and its use of a programme, something which was hitherto the domain of symphonic work. Against the background of the Classical plan for individual movements Smetana created poetic pictures through the play of individualized musical characters which have their own autonomous musical logic and which, together with their programme (which can be described as reminiscences of the state of mind at important junctures of Smetana's life) are capable of providing rich starting points for associative listening. Instead of a scherzo in the outer parts of the second movement there is a polka, following the precedent of Fibich’s and Dvo?ák's string quartets. In Smetana's case, for instance in his symphonic and operatic work, he used it as a symbol of Czech country life and Czech local colour. Here it is a reminiscence of his passionate devotion to dancing in his youth. In the coda of the finale, before the reminiscence of the lyrical theme from the first movement, a very high sustained note (E?) is heard as a fateful proclamation of Smetana's deafness. ‘I allowed myself this little trifle because it was so crucial for me’ (Smetana to Srb, 12 August 1878). The work was finally performed publicly at the concert of Um?lecká Beseda on 29 March 1877 and during Smetana's life received several performances abroad (in 1880 in Weimar on Listz's initiative, but also in Hamburg, Vienna, Meiningen, Magdeburg, Paris, Dresden, Moscow and overseas).
The external stimulus for Smetana's last important work, the Second String Quartet in D minor, can also be traced to Procházka's efforts to promote Smetana's music. The quartet was composed in the years 1882–3, when, on account of his worsening state of health, Smetana was able to compose only in snatches. This fact has influenced the view of many commentators on this work, going, as it does, against the more stable norms of the genre. Smetana's quartet is characterized by its remarkable shortwindedness, its aphoristic character and the density of its musical expression (for instance the first movement is a carefully thought out miniature double-function form) and looks forward to such tendencies of the future. It is significant that a comment by Arnold Schoenberg (although not substantiated) has been handed down in Smetana literature from the 1920s that it was this quartet which ‘opened the world to him’.
9. Piano works.
As far as quantity is concerned, piano works take up a dominant position in Smetana's works of the 1840s and 50s. In his self-taught period standard dance genres predominate, above all polkas; there are also attempts at the lyrical piano piece. During his studies with Josef Proksch this field developed in parallel with his exercises and compositional studies, with Smetana's first piano cycle Bagatelles et impromptus appearing at the beginning of 1844. It points to the various ways forward taken in his future works: salon pieces as a type of poeticized study and song without words linked with the names of Mendelssohn and Henselt but also with the poetical music of Schumann. For Smetana's orientation the French titles of the compositions are themselves eloquent in this respect, and he continued to use them frequently. It was only the further cycle of Six morceaux caractéristiques which he designated as his op.1, among other reasons to add weight to the dedication to Liszt. The plan to compose a cycle of albumleaves in all 24 major and minor keys also arose during this period. But it remained incomplete and in the end Smetana grouped some of the albumleaves into his opp.2 and 3 and into the Skizzen opp.4 and 5, which he dedicated to Clara Schumann. In the continuing composition of polkas, certain stylistic tendencies appeared which deepened in 1848–54 in the Trois polkas de salon op.7 and the Trois polkas poétiques op.8. The culmination of this attempt at idealized dances is the Souvenir de Bohême en forme de polkas opp.12–13 (1859–60). Besides reviews and reminiscences of his contemporaries Smetana's virtuoso compositions tell us about his technical abilities. He wrote most of these pieces, for instance the transcription of Schubert's song Der Neugierige from Die schöne Müllerin, or the concert étude Am Seegestade – eine Erinnerung, or the cadenzas for Mozart's and Beethoven's piano concertos, for his own use at a time when he saw this as a major part of his role as a musician coming from his career as a piano virtuoso. He initiated this line with the fantasia Böhmische Melodien and closed it with the Fantasie na ?eské národní písn? (‘Fantasia on Czech Folksongs’), which he wrote in 1862 for his concerts in the aid of the building of the National Theatre.
After his return to Bohemia Smetana's works were bound up with musical genres considered as representative of national music and he returned to piano works only after 13 years with the cycle Rêves (1875). Its various movements were dedicated to his former aristocratic women pupils who in 1874 organized a benefit concert for his trip to foreign ear specialists. The whole cycle nostalgically harks back to the famous era of the characteristic piano pieces of the 1840s and to Smetana's models, Schumann, Chopin and Liszt. Quite different aims are represented by the two series (1877 and 1879) of Czech Dances with a claim to large-scale concert forms. About the first series, polkas, he wrote to his publisher Velebín Urbánek on 2 March 1879; ‘My title “Polkas” is important, for my efforts are directed towards idealizing the polka in particular, as Chopin did in his day with the mazurka, and these four polkas are a continuation of those published years ago.’ And the aim of placing in the concert hall the stylization of further Czech dances in the second series of the cycle Smetana formulated polemically in a letter also to Urbánek a month later: ‘I suggest publishing folkdances under the title Czech Dances. Every dance under its own name, e.g. “Furiant”, “Sko?ná”, “Rejdovák and Rejdova?ka”, “Sousedská”, “Hulán” … etc.… Whereas Dvo?ák gives his pieces just a general name “Slawische Tänze” with people not knowing which they are, and whether they exist at all, we would show which dances with real names we Czechs have’.
Title-page of the arrangement for piano duet of ‘Z ?eských luh? a há
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