History of the Festival

The grand festival of classical music Smetana’s Litomyšl has been held since 1946 in the home town of the founder of Czech national music Bedřich Smetana, the old-fashioned east Bohemian town of Litomyšl.

It is inevitable that Litomyšl has always valued Smetana’s historical legacy and his name has been given to the town’s buildings, localities and cultural events: following the local citizens’ wishes the main square is called Smetanovo (from 1990), in 1905 the new theatre and concert hall was named Smetana Hall, and on the occasion of the centenary of his birth in 1924 his monument was unveiled and for the first time the complete opera company of the Prague National Theatre performed and the greatest Czech singer, Emmy Destinn, sang.

Already at that time there was a plan to hold a Smetana music festival, similar to those in Bonn (L. van Beethoven), or Salzburg (W. A. Mozart). This was carried out however only in 1949 on the 125th anniversary of the birth of Bedřich Smetana. The festival was given a simple name, Smetana’s Litomyšl, which caught on. From the start the main stage for the festival was the beautiful compound of Litomyšl Castle with its natural amphitheatre and the acoustically perfect 2nd courtyard. To begin with it was monothematic – playing only music by Bedřich Smetana and the permanent guest ensemble was the Prague National Theatre. Later other opera companies were also invited – from Brno, Ostrava and Bratislava and in 1965 the works of another composer were heard for the first time (E. Suchoň - Svätopluk).

In the period 1966-1973 Smetana’s Litomyšl did not take place and the renewal of the tradition took place on the occasion of another jubilee -1974. The seventies brought with them a change in the programming, since alongside Smetana the music of other, especially Czech and Slovak, composers. The works of Dvořák, Janáček, Martinů and Fibich, as well as Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev added welcome colour to the programme, although it was only in the late 1980s that the festival was opened up to the popular music of Mozart, Verdi and other world composers. However at that time there was also a bit of stagnation when it came to interest from visitors and after November 1989 the question of what next came up. The municipal office managed to set up a new team of organisers, established the Smetana’s Litomyšl Festival Foundation (today Smetanova Litomyšl, o.p.s.) and gave significant support to a new model of the festival – a festival with more varied programmes, more extensive in duration and the number of events, with a better range of performers. Since 1992 Smetana’s Litomyšl has taken place at the turn of June and July in two to three extended weekends. The programming became more open, and aside from operas by various composers the concerts began to include oratorios, song recitals, instrumental performances and even plays. The new leadership of the festival worked to transform Smetana’s Litomyšl into a truly valuable cultural activity with a thought-out long-term dramaturgic plan, based not only on transferring existing programmes, but also on unique musical-staging projects, whether their own or as co-productions. Due to these trends the critics regained their interest in the festival and Smetana’s Litomyšl became an important term for musical experts. In 1995 Česká spořitelna became the festival’s general partner; the entry of a strong partner meant an increase in the budget by an order of magnitude and thanks to this the possibility of improving the quality of facilities for visitors. For the 2nd castle courtyard a unique retractable roof was designed and made, which in the event of inclement weather, even in the course of a concert, can silently cover the entire auditorium. Since 1996 a raised auditorium for listeners has also regularly been installed in the 2nd courtyard. The best testimony to the success of the new model has been the interest from audiences. Tickets for most concerts have rapidly sold out and the average filling of the auditorium is greater than 95 %.