Litomyšl Native Bedřich Smetana

Bedřich Smetana was a significant composer in the romantic period.

From his early youth he concerned himself with music, especially playing the piano and composition.
Smetana was the son of the brewer at the castle brewery in Litomyšli. He was born on 2 March 1824 at 10 a.m. on the day of carnival. Apparently the evening before Mrs Smetana danced until midnight. The birth of their first son was the occasion for a great celebration. “The father was apparently in the courtyard when a girl came with the news that he had a son. And the happy father grabbed the girl and danced around the courtyard for sheer joy. However he wanted those around him to share in his happiness and so he had a barrel of beer rolled out into the courtyard and then with singing and dancing they welcomed the arrival of Bedřich Smetana in the world ….” (according to Zdeněk Nejedlý).  Smetana himself later wrote: “I was born 2 March 1824. It was the day of carnival and so I was fated to become a musician”.
His musical education began at the age of four and when six he was already giving concerts in Litomyšl. Litomyšl’s philosophy students invited him to appear at their ‘academy’, held in celebration of the name day of the Emperor Francis I on 4 October 1830 in the Charles Hall. The little Bedřich played a piano solo, the overture to Auber’s opera “The Mute Girl of Portici”. His performance earned him a storm of applause and the count’s secretary had to hold him up so that everyone could see him. After this concert Bedřich became a welcome guest in a number of townsmen’s homes. The countess herself invited him to the castle. Smetana’s childhood in Litomyšl is also the period of his first attempts at composition. Unfortunately we only know of his waltz, written when he was six, from the first list of compositions which Smetana wrote in his diary in 1841. However a fragment of his Gallop in D major from 1831 has been preserved.
Shortly after this the entire family moved from Litomyšl to do Jindřichův Hradec and for the remainder of his life Smetana only returned to the town where he was born twice. The first time was on 16 September 1867, when he went with Prague’s Hlahol Choir to a song festival in nearby Chocen. He accepted the invitation of the Litomyšl dean Antonín Šanta, who offered him accommodation, and he stayed for one night in Litomyšl. On his way back to Prague he wrote in his notebook a short nostalgic musical motif, inspired by his trip to the place where he had spent his early childhood. He noted by this melody: “September 1867 on the way from Litomyšl”.
The next and last visit Bedřich Smetana made to Litomyšl took place 18 September 1880 when he was invited by Ferdinand Ruth, Chairman of the Association of Academics in Litomyšl, invited him to the unveiling of a memorial plaque commemorating the composer’s birth. He accepted the invitation and sent a kind letter in which at the beginning he wrote: “I am lost for words to describe my feelings on the news of the celebration in Litomyšl. Forgive me for my inability to express it better. I would manage better with musical notes than in words. I was moved to tears by the grand fashion in which my birthplace has recognised my poor efforts in the world of art. Once more please forgive me that I do not know how to thank you for such a distinction, and while I am still alive!” On Saturday 18 September Bedřich Smetana came to Litomyšl accompanied by his daughters Zdeňka and Božena, his son-in-law the reeve Schwarz and his friend Josef Srb. An ‘academy’ took place in the castle theatre and in the evening after the concert the overjoyed participant s went with lanterns to the square to the plaque where the Vlastimil association sang and the state hymn was heard. After that they went and stood beneath the deanery where Smetana was staying and sang Smetana’s Festive Cantata. The next day in the morning the ceremonial unveiling of the plaque took place. In the afternoon Smetana went to take a tour of the nearby Nedošínský háj woods while a ceremonial banquet took place in the town. The festivities culminated in a ball at the old Charles Hall, where Bedřich Smetana had given his first public performance. The writer Jirásek, then a new teacher in Litomyšl, took part in the ball where his encounter with the famous Smetana made a great impression on him. He noted of this special experience: “The evening of the ball in the old Charles Hall has remained in my memory. The hall was abuzz; there was music, and ball gowns as colourful as a meadow full of flowers; in the ante-room next door from where people entered the hall, Smetana and Šmilovský sat at a table near the middle doors. Who else was there I am not sure but I think it was the late dean Ant. Šanta, of beloved memory. Until that moment I had not thought of actually meeting Smetana. I took advantage of an ideal moment. Šmilovský wrote in pencil for Smetana. That is how he spoke with him and interpreted the conversations of others. I asked him to introduce me to Smetana and told him that as a student in Prague I frequently passed the Slávia café just so that I could see Smetana; that I walked along the pavement just so that I could watch him seated at the window. Šmilovský wrote it and Smetana read it. He looked at me and gave me his hand. I cannot forget how kindly he looked at me and gave me a wry smile. He did not speak…” On Monday morning Bedřich Smetana with his family toured the town and then left Litomyšl. After his return to Jabkenice on 22 September he sent a second letter to Litomyšl, in which he thanked them for the successful celebration.
Bedřich Smetana studied music in in the places of his grammar school studies (Jindřichův Hradec, Jihlava, Německý-Havlíčkův Brod, Prague and Pilsen) and his education was completed by studying theory and composition at Josef Proksch’s Music Institute in Prague (1843-1847). He was already (1844-1847) music tutor to the family of Count Thun, performing at concerts and composing. Under the influence of the ideas of the radical democrats (he himself took an active part in the 1848 revolution) he attempted to succeed as a free artist. Shortly after his marriage to Kateřina Kolárová in the summer of 1848 he opened a private music school; but to keep it going however he had once more to tutor aristocratic families. His difficult path to self-realisation and family problems (in short succession three of the Smetanas’ four children died) meant he was forced to accept a favourable offer from Sweden. In the period 1856-1861 he was director and conductor of the philharmonic society in Gothenburg, and there he established and operated a music school; he established himself as a piano virtuoso and conductor, composed a great deal and became acquainted with modern musical trends. His holidays were spent in Bohemia; in 1859 on the way home his wife died, and a year later he married Bettina Ferdinandová. With the fall of Bach’s Absolutism and the preparation for the opening of the Provisional Theatre he returned to Prague but he failed to gain the position of first conductor in the theatre. He got the post only after several years (1866) filled with teaching, concert-giving and organising activities (in 1863 he helped found the Umělecká Beseda society for Czech artists, and in 1863-1865 he was choirmaster for the Hlahol Choral Society). In the autumn of 1874 Smetana lost his hearing and had to give up not only his position as conductor in the theatre but also his concert and teaching work. However he did not cease to compose and his works from this period represent his creative peak. His last years were spent for the most part in the family of his daughter Žofie in Jabkenice near to Mladá Boleslav. His nervous condition steadily worsened. He was still able to participate in the second festive opening of the National Theatre on 18/11/1883 and saw his Libuše, but in April 1884 he had to be placed in a lunatic asylum, where he died after three weeks. He worked in all the musical forms. He created Czech national operas (The Brandenburgers in Bohemia, The Bartered Bride, Dalibor, Libuše, The Two Widows, The Kiss, The Secret, The Devil’s Wall and the unfinished Viola), a number of choral works (The Peasant, The Dower and Czech Song) and songs (Evening Songs). Of his symphonic music the best known is his cycle of symphonic poems My Country (Vyšehrad, Vltava, Šárka, From Bohemian Woods and Fields, Tábor and Blaník), and of his chamber music the string quartet in E minor From My Life, and from his piano compositions the concert study in G-sharp minor On the Sea Shore, the cycles Dreams and Czech Dances, the duo From My Homeland and many polkas (Louise’s, Jiřinka’s and Our Girls). The figure of Smetana has a fundamental significance for Czech music. He completed the revived development of national music and at the same time opened up space for modern musical trends.
From the works
The Brandenburgers in Bohemia (1862-1863)
The Bartered Bride (1863-1866, 1868-1870)
Dalibor (1865-1867, 1870)
Libuše (1869-1872)
The Two Widows (1873-1874, 1877)
The Kiss (1875-1876)
The Secret (1877-1878)
The Devil’s Wall (1879-1882)
Viola, a fragment (1875, 1883)

Orchestral Compositions:
Minuet B-flat major (1842)
Bayadere Gallop (1842)
Festive Overture in D major (1848-1849, 1883)
Festive Symphony (1853-1854)
Richard III, symphonic poem (1858)
Wallenstein’s Camp, symphonic poem (1858-1859)
Hakon Jarl, symphonic poem (1860-1861)
Doctor Faust, overture to a puppet play by Matěj Kopecký (1862)
Polka in D major “To Our Girls” (probably 1862-1863)
Oldřich and Božena, overture to a puppet play by Matěj Kopecký (1863)
Solemn March for Shakespeare Celebrations (1864)
Fanfares for Shakespeare’s Richard III (1867)
Solemn Prelude in C major (1868)
The Fisherman, music for a living picture according to Goethe (1869)
Libuše’s Judgement, music for a living picture according to the Zelenohorský Manuscript (1869)
My Country, cycle of symphonic poems
Vyšehrad (1872, 1874)
Vltava (1874)
Šárka (1875)
From Bohemian Woods and Fields (1875)
Tábor (1878)
Blaník (1879)
The Country Woman, polka (1879)
The Prague Carnival: Introduction and Polonaise (1883)

Chamber Works
Fantasy on a Bohemian Song for violin and piano (1842-1843)
Piano Trio in G minor (1855, 1857)
String Quartet No. 1 “From My Life” (1876)
From My Homeland, two duets for violin and piano (1880)
String Quartet No. 2 in D minor (1882-1883)

Choral Works
Song of Liberty (1848)
Czech Song, four part choir (1860)
The Three Riders, male voice choir (1862)
The Renegade, male voice double choir (1863
The Renegade, male voice choir and quartet of soloists (1864)
The Peasant, male voice choir (1868)
Czech Song, mixed choir with piano (1868)
Festive Chorus, male voice choir (1870)
The Song of the Sea, male voice choir (1876-1877)
Three Female Choruses (1878)
Czech Song, mixed choir with orchestra (1878)
The Dower, male voice choir (1880)
Prayer, male voice choir (1880)
Slogan I II, male voice choir (1882)
Our Song, male voice choir (1883)

Liebchens Blick / Pohled mé dívky (1846)
Farewell! (1846)
Schmerz der Trennung / Bolest odloučení (1846)
Einladung / Vyzvání (1846)
Liebesfrühling / Jaro lásky (1853)
Evening Songs (1879)

Piano Compositions
Louise’s Polka (1840)
Dahlia Polka (1840)
Galopp di bravoura (1840)
Impromptus E-flat major, B-minor, A-flat major (1841-1842)
Duo Without Words (1842)
Overtures in C minor and A major for piano 4 hands (1842)
From Student Life, polka (1842, 1858)
Quadrilles in B-flat major, F major (1843)
Souvenir of Pilsen, polka (1843)
Waltz (1844)
Bagatelles and Impromptus (1844)
Album Leaves in B major, E major, C minor, E-flat minor, A-flat major (1844-1845)
Pensée fugitive (1845)
Polka E-flat major (1846)
Sonata in G minor (1846)
Forest Impressions and Emotions (1847, 1883)
Romance in B-flat major (1847, 1883)
Allegro capriccioso (about 1847)
Character Piece in C major (1847-1848)
Six Character Pieces, op. 1 (1847-1848)
March of the Prague Student Legion (1848)
National Guard March (1848)
Album Leaves G major, G minor and B minor (1848-1849?)
Wedding Scenes (1849)
Album Leaf in B major (1849)
Album Leaves, op. 2 (1849-1850)
Album Leaves B minor, E-flat minor (1849-1854?)
Toccatina in B major (1849-1854?)
Three Salon Polkas, op. 7 (1848-1854)
Three Poetic Polkas, op. 8 (1848-1854)
Andante in E-flat major (1849-1852) Polkas in E major, G minor, A major and F minor (1850-1855)
Album Leaves, op. 3 (1848-1856)
Sketches, op. 4, 5 (1848-1857)
Transcription of Schubert’s Der Neugierige from the cycle Die Schöne Müllerin / Krásná mlynářka (1858)
Ball-Vision (Polka-Rhapsody) (1858)
Concert Étude in C major (1858)
Bettina polka (1859, 1883)
Macbeth (Macbeth and the Witches) (1859)
Souvenir de Bohme en forme de Polkas, op. 12 and 13 (1859-1860)
On the Sea Shore - concert étude (1861)
A Sheet for the Marie Prokschová memorial (1862)
Fantasy on Czech Folks Songs (1862)
Dreams, piano cycle (1875)
Czech Dances I and II (1877 and 1879)
Andante in F minor (1880)
Romance in G minor (1881)
Organ Works
Six Preludes (1846)