top of page

Smetana Bedřich, the greatest Czech musical artist, creator of modern Czech national music (* March 2, 1824 in Litomyšl, +May 12, 1884 in Prague). His family came from Hořick; his father František Smetana (* October 26, 1777, +June 12, 1857), the son of a cooper from Sádová, was a brewer in various places and acquired a considerable fortune mainly by renting a brewery in Nis in Prussian Silesia at the beginning of the nineteenth century, which later in Chvalkovice u He lost most of Jaroměř's financial patent, after which he suddenly helped himself again in New Town in Moravia, Litomyšl and especially in Jindřichov Hradec by buying a freehold estate in Růžková Lhotica near Čechtice in 1835. After nine years, however, he had to sell the estate and rented a brewery in Obříství near Mělník, where the cancellation of propination obligations deprived him of the last remnants of his fortune, which is why, from 1852, he spent his last years with his son Antonín, a brewer in Nové Město in Moravia. František Smetana, an enterprising, vigorous and strict man, but lively and cheerful, loved music and the theater and also supported the early musical talent of his first son, Bedřich, who was born to him on the last day of Lent as the thirteenth of his twenty children, as the third then from the ten that came from his third marriage with Barbora Linková (*1790, +20 September 1864 in Mladá Boleslav), the daughter of a journeyman in Miletín. Already in Litomyšl, little Bedřich, trained in violin and piano by his first teacher, Antonín Chmelík, began to compose (waltz, drop) and at the age of five he played the first violin in a quartet, a year later (October 4, 1830) he publicly performed a piano arrangement of the overture to "Němé z Portici" in the academy, already organized by Litomyšl students on the emperor's name day, with such great success that from that moment he was considered a musical prodigy. In Jindřich Hradec (1831-35) he learned music from the choir director and organist Jikavac, who soon also trained him in singing so that he could sing as a soprano in church. In 1834, Smetana also started attending the gymnasium in that town, and when the family moved to Růžková Lhotica in 1835, he continued in Jihlava, but only for one semester; the following year he was sent to the gymnasium in Německý Brod, again in the "parva" (prima), so that he and his brother (Antonín) could be together. His music teacher in Jihlavsk was called Matucha, he practiced alone with Smetana in Německé Brod. In 1839, he was enrolled in the "syntax" (quartet) of the Academic Gymnasium in Prague, but he did poorly in his studies here, even attending school carelessly in the summer; he was much more interested in music, he learned the piano (with Batka), played (with his friends Butula, Kostelka, Vlček) a quartet, which, due to the lack of sheet music, he wrote from memory based on what he had heard at garden concerts in Žofín or elsewhere. After a year, he was sent to Pilsen to repeat the quartet under the supervision of his cousin, Josef František Smetana. He initially studied here with good success, later again with less success (he only got excellent grades in history), but he completed his grammar school studies (then six years) in 1843. In Pilsen he cultivated music more and more zealously; he was known as the best pianist in the city, who studied the most modern piano compositions (Liszt, Thalberg, Henselt, etc.) with which he also performed in public productions, played privately in quartets, taught piano, and even diligently composed, although he lacked theoretical knowledge (in the "sheer darkness of spiritual musical education", as he himself said about the four-hand overture from 1842).

​Finally, Smetana's desire for music, in which he saw "his life and his salvation", prevailed (through the intercession of Professor Smetana's cousin) over his father's wish for him to pursue an official career. After the holidays, he was happy that he "no longer belongs to the world of students, but to the world of music", but from his father, who, having suffered great losses due to crop failures, could no longer support him, he received twenty guilders once and for all. When he left for Prague in October 1843, he was therefore still dependent on his own earnings, and then struggled more than once with real need. When he managed to hire a piano after two months, he practiced tirelessly, mainly wanting to become a virtuoso. In 1844, Mrs. Anna Kolářová, the wife of a financial inspector, with whom he had recently lived in Pilsen, introduced him to the famous music teacher Josef Proksch, with whom her daughter Kateřina was then living and studying. Hearing Smetana play, Prokš praised his fine touch, but criticized him for his clear lack of theoretical education and then accepted him as a private pupil in the field of tom, but for a fee (gold per hour), which the poor apprentice could not yet pay and only in later years gradually was repaying. The violinist Josef Nesvadba, with whom Smetana had become close friends at the time, introduced him to artistic circles and also introduced him to Bedřich Kittel, the director of the conservatory who, just at the time when Smetana's material straits were complete, arranged for him a position as a music teacher with Count Leopold Thun with three hundred gold of a year's salary and full provisions. Now Smetana could continue his musical studies without worry, he only came to the proksch in the winter, however, during the summer, which he spent with the count family in the countryside (in Ronšperk, Nový Venátky and nearby Bon Reposú, he worked diligently on many compositional tasks of the most diverse forms, so that Proksch considered him to be an exemplary pupil. By the end of these lessons, Smetanova's first chamber composition, Piano Sonata (1846) falls. during his stay in Pilsen, and who had taken his place at Thun. Virtuosity was supposed to be only a means of obtaining a position as a band member or teacher. But the Smetanas' efforts did not succeed at all, although he was already known from the concert as an excellent pianist; several musical conditions brought him so little that he could not even buy a piano and had to practice with friends. In his greatest need, in the spring of 1848, Smetana turned with full confidence to Franz Liszt, who not long ago accepted the dedication of the Six morceaux caracteristics pour piano sent to him with the assurance that it belonged to the most outstanding of kind of compositions of recent times, but he also took care of their publication in print as Smetana's Opus 1 (1851). The most friendly relations soon developed between the famous city of the world name and the young Czech beginner; Smetana was Liszt's guest in Weimar on more than one occasion (1857, 1859), and whenever Liszt visited Prague from that time on, he always had the most contact with Smetana, on whom he had such a deep and decisive influence that Smetana already confessed in 1857: "If I do not also belong to those lucky ones who directly call themselves your pupils, after all, you are my master, and I thank you for everything" and then remained an unlimited worshiper of Liszt for the rest of his life. During the storm of 1848, Smetana was a member of the National Guard; he dedicated marches to her and the Student Legion, and under the fresh impressions of the movement, he began to compose his first orchestral work, the Ceremonial Overture (D major, opus 4), which was performed for the first time in April of the following year. In October 1848, Smetana finally opened his own music institute, which was so successful that Kateřina Kolářová (*March 5, 1827 in Klatovy) could already become Smetana's wife on August 27, 1849. Of the four daughters from this marriage (Bedřiška, Gabriela, Žofia, Kateřina), only the third, Žofia, was brought up; she married Josef Schwarz of the forest in 1874 and died on February 18, 1902. Brzo Smetana also excelled as a pianist in the chamber productions he organized with the violinist O. Königslöw and the cellist Antonín Traeger, one of which was visited by Emperor Ferdinand, who then recommended Smetana At the end of 1850, he appointed Prokschovo as his everyday player. From this period (1849-1856), Smetana's compositions mainly include a number of piano compositions, especially Listy do pámátník, some of which were published in 1851 by print ("Stambuchblätter"), then polkas (concert, salon, poetic as well as truly dance pieces for "Narodní besedu" 1849 composed) as well as numerous transcriptions and piano arrangements intended for the needs of the school. In 1854, on the occasion of the emperor's marriage, a four-movement Festive Symphony was composed on Haydn's hymn, the dedication of which, however, was not accepted, and which was performed for the first time on February 26, 1855, in the first major solo concert in Smetanov. In the autumn of 1855, as a reminder of the genius child Bedřiška, who died of scarlet fever at the age of 5 and whose musical talent aroused astonishment, a piano trio in G minor was composed, played for the first time on November 22, 1855, and received little praise from the Prague critics favorably received, however, by Liszt (during his stay in Prague, on the occasion of his Esztergom mass to St. Wenceslas in 1856) especially praised; in doing so, Smetana proved himself as a mature master.

In 1856, on the advice of Alexander Dreyschock, he accepted an invitation to Gothenburg, Sweden, to become involved in the management of the newly formed Society for Classical Music (Sällskapet für klassik Sangmusik). He went there first (October 11, 1856) alone, only a year later (September 3, 1857) with his family. On this second trip to Sweden, he also visited Liszt in Weimar. The material position of Smetanov in Gothenburg (1856-61) was very favorable; because in addition to the monthly salary of 100 Swedish tolars from the named association, his own concerts and a private piano school brought him considerable money. But as an artist he initially felt completely alone; he found the musical conditions to be "antediluvian", the taste of the audience had not even reached Beethoven's, the latest composers were quite unknown. However, it was precisely for this reason that Smetana was attracted by the wide field on which he could work for the enhancement of taste and for the advancement of art; he performed compositions by Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner , if the inadequacy of artistic means, especially of the dilettante orchestra, allowed it, and this progressive zeal of his not only impressed the public, but also bore fruit, so that at the end of the second saison he could say to himself, and with joy also tell Liszt, that the path was paved. Smetana himself became soon became the darling of the Gothenburg audience; his compositional activity, in addition to conducting and teaching, was not idle, however. Apart from numerous piano compositions, of which we mainly include Sketches (dedicated to Klara Schumann), a ballad, a concert etude, a transcription of Schubert's song Der Neugierige and again a number of other pieces, he composed in Gothenburg, three symphonic poems based on Liszt's model, with which he openly declared himself among the members of the so-called Weimar circle, i.e. the New German school: Richard III. (based on Shakespeare's history, 1858), Waldstein Camp (based on Schiller's overture, 1859) and Hakon Jarl (based on Oehlenschläger's tragedy, 1861). Because of that, Smetanova's family happiness was not to last; his wife, who had been suffering from lung disease for a long time, longed for home from the harsh north, and when S. was returning to Prague with her, she died on April 19, 1859 in Dresden. Smetana spent the summer in Bohemia, apart from a 14-day trip to the Leipzig Musikfest and to see Liszt in Weimar. When he came back to his homeland after a year for vacation, he celebrated his second marriage with Barbora Ferdinandová (born November 10, 1840 in Černý Budy u Sázava, still living) in Obřístvo on July 10, 1860. Two daughters came from this marriage, Zdenka (married to forester Heydušek) and Bozena (married to the director of the Gráfa estate). But Smetana only stayed in Sweden for a year; it was above all his strong desire to penetrate the musical world as a composer, which of course was completely impossible from Gothenburg, where he could not even perform all his symphonic poems orchestrally; then rumors about the establishment of an independent Czech theater and a completely new Czech movement in the field of art also beckoned him to Prague, after which his second wife also wept, and he now firmly hoped that he would find the place of work that he so ardently desired. In March 1861, he ended his activity in Gothenburg and, saying goodbye to his friends and pupils, in April he achieved great artistic success with several concerts in Stockholm, on the way back he also played in Norköping and then once more in Gothenburg, and on May 19, 1861 he finally returned to of Prague.

The music scene in Prague was clearly disproportionately livelier and richer than that of Gothenburg, but Smetana soon realized that even here the application of his progressive ideals of artistic deepening and elevation of general taste would have to be fought for with a tenacious struggle, not only on a much larger scale, but even at heavy sacrifices of personal well-being. After all, on his native land, he had another lofty goal: he wanted to become a creator and organizer of musical art in the Czech national spirit, and thus forever disprove the world-wide prejudice that the musical talent of Czechs is sufficient only for performing arts. On the one hand, the impressions experienced in the Czech countryside in his youth, on the other hand, in the time when (by Erben, Martinovským) she turned her attention to folk songs, explaining that here and there there is a national character unintentionally already in Smetana's older compositions (from the 1940s and 1950s), so that he could later to mine from such places. In The Bartered Bride and in Libuš, and that a kind of attempt at it was deliberately made in the symphonic poem Valdštýnův tábor; the numerous piano polkas that musically idealized the Czech folk dance, introduced to the wider public only in the 1930s, in a similar way as Chopin's mazurkas the Polish dance, were, of course, already a serious artistic act. However, a fundamental and consistent effort in this direction appears only at the beginning of the 60s in compositions composed to Czech words. Ludevít Procházka (v. t.), a former student of Smetana's who, after his return from Sweden, introduced him to the Czech literary and artistic society, as early as 1860 he was forced to promise to form Czech male choirs; The master fulfilled his promise soon after the founding of Hlahol, and not without the influence of P. Křížkovský's compositions Třemi jezdci and Odrodilce. But Procházka also provided him with a librettist: Karel Sabina (v. t.), whose Branibory v Čechá Smetana composed from January 1862 to April 1863. At the same time, he took a new path; contrary to the general opinions at the time, he came to the conviction that "by imitating the melodic flow and rhythm of our folk songs, no national style will be created, at most a weak imitation of the songs themselves, not to mention the dramatic truth", the musical elements of those songs were only a building block for him in building new ones, higher art departments. In doing so, however, he encountered stiff resistance in Czech musical circles, especially among some Czech critics, while the German crisis, which was thoroughly conservative at the time, was objectionable at all as a modern trend. Therefore, he was left with only a narrow circle of friends and admirers, concentrated at that time mainly in the Artistic Forum, of which he himself was one of the founders (1863) and whose musical field made him its first chairman. Meanwhile, Smetana was forced to live off his Swedish savings; for the artistic journey to Germany and Holland at the end of 1861 provided him with few opportunities to play in public, and the two separate concerts in January 1862, with which he introduced himself to the Prague audience not only as a pianist but also as a composer, also caused him material loss. So he decided in March 1862 for a new two-month visit to Gothenburg, where concerts and temporary teaching brought him considerable success both artistically and financially. When, in 1863, during the change of directorate of the Provisional Theater opened on October 18, 1862 under the band leadership of Jan Nep. Maýra (v. t.), it turned out that the decisive factors (mainly intendant Dr. Fr. L. Rieger) are in favor of keeping Maýra, although there was considerable and justified opposition against him in the Czech music industry and a special event in favor of the Smetanas started with the Artistic Discussion. the disappointed master secured his existence by re-opening his music institute (in September 1863), and he could also begin his reforming work in the field of concerts and theater in Prague, as Listovy promised at the time, "at the conductor's desk and with the writer's pen". He became choirmaster of Hlahol in October 1863, in the Artistic Conversation he took care of the musical part of the commemorative celebration of Shakespeare's 300th birthday (April 23, 1864), for which he also composed the soaring Ceremonial March, and conducted its three subscription concerts (December 28, 1864, March 4 and 16 May 1865), which became a significant event in the musical life of Prague and for which he prepared the ground as early as 1862 with a combative article about our concerts in the music magazine "Slavoji" and in August 1865 in Pest at the opening of the conservatory and the premiere of "Svaté Alžběty" from List, he not only obtained permission to perform this work in Prague, but as the author also set the condition that no one else but Smetana should conduct the oratorio, which also happened on April 20, 1866. 1864 to April 1865) the sad state of the opera of the Provisional Theater was subjected to deserved criticism, and at the same time, in three feuilletons of the same newspaper Public Musical Life in Prague (in June and July 1864), he also indicated the paths that the modern and national art institute should take. He insisted on the continuous support of domestic creations and on the performance of the most excellent foreign works, classical and romantic (against the prevailing one-sided cult of Italian opera) and demanded an artistically soulful presentation of each opera. "Operas must not be musical productions where you only sing for the sake of singing, where it is enough that everything goes in time and nothing goes wrong , where the main thing is always the baton. Operas must be elevated to drama, during which we forget the external machinery of leadership". With these then new, "Wagnerian" principles, the intrepid Smetana made an enemy for the entire future of the conductor Mayr, who was, of course, only an experienced routiner without any artistic sanctification; the latter, by operating He defied the Brandenburgers in Bohemia and contrived delays, so that later the composition of "The Templars in Moravia" by Karel Šebor was preceded by them (October 19, 1865) and in the end Smetana had to stage his opera and conduct it himself. great reserve, so that he would not become inaccessible to the audience with his first opera, but the richness and freshness of his music, formally refined, dramatically alive and undeniably Czech in folk scenes, made "Brandenburg" an extremely great success, unheard of in our country at the time, at the premiere on January 5, 1866 so that the novelty was performed fourteen times during the first year. There was no doubt that "Branibory" laid a solid foundation for Czech dramatic music, although no one except Smetana had a clear idea of the paths it should take. As early as May 30, 1866, Smetanova's second singing play, Prodaná nevěsta, also set to Sabin's text, was performed. When "Brandenburg" was finished (1863), the assumption was made that the author, as an artist of the most serious direction and a "Wagnerian" at that, would not be able to write an opera, the lack of which would be felt the most: an opera of a lighter, generally accessible style and definitely of a Czech free-national character; in order to refute this and at the same time to clarify his ideas about substitute music with new, convincing evidence, Smetana originally wanted only a one-act "operetta", which, however, grew under his hands into a wonderful comic opera full of exuberant bustle and irresistible comedians, a core picture of rural life, but after all, musically noble and gentle. The fact that the external success of "Broken Bride" was not as spectacular at the first performances as with "Brandenburg" was mainly due to the unfavorable weather: there was a threat of war on two sides, which actually broke out three Sundays later. But a few performances (there were ten of them in the first year after the premiere) were enough to make "The Bartered Bride" so popular that since then it has not missed a single year in the repertoire, in 1882 it lived to its hundredth, in 1892 its two hundredth, in 1895 its three hundredth and in 1903 of the 400th performance, therefore boasts a success that no other Czech dramatic work has ever had. Smetana replaced the original spoken dialogue with recitatives in 1870, when he had already added some new songs and dances and divided the initial two acts into three.

After the war of 1868, the cooperative that took over the administration of the Provisional Theater appointed Smetana as the first conductor, thus finally fulfilling his long-cherished wish. For this, as a composer, with his next opera, with Dalibor, composed to the words of Jos. Wenzigem originally written in German and Erv. Honored by Špindler and first given at the ceremony of the foundation of the National Theater on May 16, 1868, he ended up failing, which he then bore hard for the rest of his life. And "Dalibor" was hardly more "Wagnerian" (apart from the more penetrating use of characteristic motifs), but for that it was definitely more common than the "Brandenburgers" so enthusiastically received at the time, but it ran into a fatal misunderstanding, because despite the substantial diversity of materials and stylistic conditions, it was judged according to the standard At the time, the already generally popular "Sold Brides" and Smetana was then claimed to have abandoned the Czech direction he himself had started and is now said to be continuing where Wagner left off. For years, Smetana's friends fought in vain against such odd prejudices, which culminated in Pivod's famous saying that "Dalibor" was a "lifeless alien"; only after the author's death on December 5, 1886 in the National Theater did the rare musical beauty and dramatic truth of the noble work fully penetrate and make it a repertory opera forever. Between 1871 and 1872, Smetana wrote Libuši, again based on Wenzig's text. In this masterpiece of his, he came much closer to his ideal of musical drama than in any other opera, and nevertheless, the Czechness of the music was also on the rise in it; it was supposed to be, after the reprimand, a festive singing performance elevated above the ordinary repertoire and a perfect theatrical apparatus, intended for the opening of the great National Theater, which at that time was still a long way off. However, just at the time when Smetana's genius reached the peak of his dramatic creation, a fierce struggle broke out between Smetana's opponents and supporters, which stirred and enraged our entire public life for several years. Fr. Pivoda (v.t.), who was an ardent supporter of "The Bartered Bride", but an even more ardent opponent of the master since "Dalibor", started (with his articles in "Osvět" 1872) a fight which was not only aimed at Smetana's basic views on dramatic music (his Wagnerian ), but in connection with that he also denied the Czechness of his compositions and his entire artistic endeavors in general, and even questioned his patriotic and national thinking. The immediate goal of those attacks was, of course, the removal of Smetana from the band and the return of Mýrův hdo theater, this time as director, and Smetana was therefore directly declared a pest of Czech opera and an obstacle to the successful development of our dramatic music. At that time (1872 - 1874) the majority of journal criticism was on the master's side, especially the professional magazine "Hudební listy" edited by L. Procházk, and when (at the end of 1872) this paper was taken over by Pivoda, of course also Procházk's new magazine "Dalibor". However, the most disgusting phenomenon was that a purely artistic issue was finally dragged into political party fights, and Smetana's followers were suddenly declared "Mladočechy", only so that the Old Bohemian papers were forced to help the master's opponents. Under these circumstances, Smetana must have wished to perform with a new opera and regain the favor of that part of the audience that was intimidated by "Dalibor" and unfavorable opinions about him or even political slogans. He chose for it the French comedy Mallefill's Two Widows, to the libretto by Em. processed by Züngel, from which he created a fresh conversational song in a smooth salon style, whose music was certainly accessible to the tastes of the widest audience. Although the success of the premiere on March 27, 1874 was decisive, even then there was a part of criticism unfavorable to Smetana, accusing him of "Wagnerianism" and insufficient Czechness. Smetana later (1877) transformed the prose dialogue into recitatives and also multiplied folk scenes. In the years 1866 - 74, Smetana was able to compose, in addition to three operas, only a few other compositions during his job as a bandleader; however, the male choir Rolnická, a mixed Czech song, the Festive Overture (to celebrate the founding of the National Theater on May 16, 1868), mostly in 1868, and the musical procession to the two lively paintings Rybář and Libušin soud in 1869 arose from the larger works. Later, of course, the aforementioned it was precisely the attacks on his art and his position as a bandleader that robbed Smetana of the necessary peace of mind, until finally his delicate physical structure was touched at its very foundations by constant irritation and bitterness.

In the summer of 1874, there was a disturbance of the nerves, which soon led first to the deafness of the right ear, later also to the sickening of the left, until suddenly on the night of October 20-21, 1874, Smetana was completely and forever deprived of hearing, just at the moment when, as a fifty-year-old the man stood in the full power of his creation and in the full perfection of his art. He had no choice but to give up the position of bandleader. Smetana's successor was the current second conductor Adolf Čech, who from there studied and conducted his operas together with the master, while Mýr was finally installed as director. With this catastrophic turn, a new period in Smetanov's life began, full of personal suffering and renunciation imposed on him by the loss of hearing and its various consequences, but at the same time amazingly fruitful in the field of musical creation, to the results of which he was now dependent even by his existence, and to which he also he donated if his illness allowed him. From the beginning, he devoted himself to the hope that the disease would not be incurable, and not only did he undergo treatment (by the specialist Prof. Zoufal) in Prague, but in the spring of 1875 he also sought the help of famous doctors outside Bohemia in Vircpurk (Troeltzsche) and Vienna (Pollitzer). , which made it possible for him to earn both from his own concert and from a private production by former Smetana students from aristocratic circles organized by Countess Eleonora Kounicová. When all hope for recovery disappeared, Smetana decided to leave Prague for good. His relationship with the theater was now so adjusted that he received 1,200 guilders (1,500 guilders from 1883) for the performance of his first four operas ("Brandenburg", "Broken Brides", "Dalibor" and "Two Widows"); it was his only permanent income, since the short period of his band leadership (8 years) did not entitle him to a pension from the theater pension fund. Royalties were arranged for other operas, otherwise he was dependent on the publisher's fee, which was quite insignificant. Luckily, however, he was able to take refuge in Jabkenice (near Mladá Boleslav) in the summer of 1875, where he found a cozy stillness and loving care in the family circle with his daughter Žofia, the wife of forester Schwarz, and from where he often commuted to Prague. He bore his fate with wonderful patience and flexibility, even with endearing humor; he was strengthened by the knowledge that his ability to compose had not suffered from hearing loss. Years later, he turned to instrumental music again, and it was at the time of his deafness that he worked on a symphonic poem completed on November 18, 1874; it was Vyšehrad, which, like the glorious song of an enthusiastic rhabsod, conjures up the Old Slavonic residence of princes in the full splendor of legend and history. Still in December, the Vltava flowing with fresh streams followed, and during the next year, the pathetically excited Šárka and the colorful, moody painting Z české luhů a hájů. After a three-year hiatus, this series with Tábor (1878) is a massive fantasy of the battle song of the Hussites, which is immediately followed by Blaník (1879) as a triumphant celebration of the rebirth of the Czech nation, jubilantly resounding both with the opening theme of "Vyšehrad" and with the last verse of the Hussite song, completed on the six-part cycle titled Má vlast (dedicated to the city of Prague), which, as a masterpiece of a distinctly personal and national nature, would have been enough in itself to ensure its creator an honorable place among the leading composers of the time. In addition to this magnificently constructed symphonic cycle, Smetana created in 1876 the equivalent string quartet From my Life (E minor), a magnificent chamber work with a deeply moving program; in it he gave a musical echo of his own fates in life, from happy youth to deafness. Smetana also now returned to the piano and wrote six bravura compositions with the common title Sny ("Rêves", 1874 - 75), then České tance (1877 - 1879), which, in addition to the four polls, also include ten other folk dances (Furiant, Slepička ) Finally, at the end of this period (1874 - 80) the two duos for violin and piano Z domoviny were also created. However, vocal music, in which Smetana had been silent since "Dvou vdov" for two whole years, apart from a few choirs, especially Píseň na moři (1878) and Veno (1880, for the jubilee of "Hlahol"), and five Evening Songs (Hálk's, 1879) ) represent two comic plays from rural life Hubička and Tajemství. "Hubička" composed in the first half of 1876 to a libretto by Eliška Krásnohorská (v.t.) based on the story of the same name by Karolina Světlá and first performed on November 7, 1876 and such a great all-round success that during its first year it achieved the largest number of performances of all Smetana's works (20 ) and immediately became the most popular opera after "The Bartered Bride", as Smetana's first comic opera composed through and through and therefore carried by a single flow of the orchestra, it did, of course, mean progress on the path to musical drama according to the author's views, but its material, in turn, allowed for, and even directly demanded, the same rich folk colors , Czech, as once "The Bartered Bride"; at the same time, she also showed for the first time in the vocal field that Smetana's illness did not in any way affect the freshness of his imagination and his humor. Hence her success. However, the "Secret", composed (again on text El. Krásnohorské) in 1877 and 1878. In it, Smetana's dramatic style in the field of comic singing reached the height of its development, especially with the broadly based and beautifully executed first act. And just as the musical characterization of persons, situations and moods, even in the details, was supremely plastic, so the new opera also stood out with its even more careful and even more expressive declamation of the Czech word than in "Hubička". Although the artistic merits were fully appreciated in musical circles, and the external theatrical success of the premiere on September 18, 1878 was very favorable, the widest audience accepted the novelty precisely because it meant renewed progress, quite coldly, so that it won its favor only over the years she had to conquer suddenly. The moment Smetana had longingly turned his eyes towards for two decades of working in Prague after his return from abroad finally approached, namely the opening of the great National Theater of his "Libuší" on June 11, 1881, with the ceremonial opening of the plays in the new building. The master's fears that she would suffer the same fate of misunderstanding, as "Dalibor" once did, fortunately did not come true. On the one hand, it was precisely in the last years of the Smetana family that he contributed to raising the musical level of the audience not only with his operas, but also with instrumental compositions, on the other hand, the perfection of the performance in terms of music and scenery, unprecedented in our country, together with the joyful mood of the moment, increased the audience's receptivity, so that the opera of all Smetana's most progressive, which he himself said was "higher in every respect", had a great and lasting success, his greatest of serious operas and, after all, surpassed only by "The Bartered Bride" and "Hubička". That is why the author's original wish for "Libuše" to remain a celebratory song, which is certainly perfectly matched by the overall majestic calm of its music despite all the liveliness and truthfulness of the dramatic movement, soon had to give way to general insistence and the work was included in the regular repertoire. Smetana's long-standing dream that he would conduct his "Libuša" himself, however, did not come true; after all, he didn't even hear a single note from her. And yet once more, although deaf, he conducted at least its prelude in the concert after the fire at the National Theater (August 12, 1881) in favor of the new building, held on September 28 of the same year; it was his last performance as a conductor, while as a pianist he had already said goodbye to the Prague audience on January 4, 1880, in his concert commemorating his fifty years of artistic activity (with a performance of Chopin's Nocturne and his own polka), and to the public in Písek on October 4, 1881. The last period of Smetana's life (1881 - 1884) began with the composition "Devil's Walls" completed in the spring of 1882. The libretto (again by Eliška Krásnohorská) did not allow further development of the dramatic style over "Tajemství"; for that, romance, which in the two previous comic operas was either a mere light touch or only externally intervened in the story, in "Devil's Wall" the element of chivalry and especially the devil (the devil in the Czech folk version) directly controlled the essence of the play and thus set special tasks for the music, which, however, Smetanova's art solved masterfully. Unfortunately, the theater paid so little attention to the unusual scenic difficulties in the sloppy staging of the new piece that the shortcomings of the external performance shot down the inner value and richness of the music, and after the premiere (October 29, 1882) only four more performances followed, after which "Devil's Wall" was performed for a number of years completely disappeared from the repertoire. Smetana's failure was all the more important, as the celebration of the hundredth performance of "The Bartered Bride" (May 5, 1882) was celebrated shortly before, during which he was surrounded by enthusiastic, hearty ovations. It must have seemed to him that the theater and the audience in "Devil's Wall" were witnessing the decline and weakening of his art. And yet, the creative power of his imagination has remained completely intact despite the fact that at the very time when he was composing "Devil's Wall", he began to complain about the growing difficulties caused by his deafness at work. But even before the premiere of that opera, already in the summer of 1882, Smetana was overcome by despondency and distress stemming from the knowledge that deafness is the source of a nervous disease that could threaten all original creation, and in November of the same year, after acute attacks of aphasia, he even learned that even more dangerous madness is not ruled out. In such circumstances, despite the warning voices of the doctors, Smetana composed his Second String Quartet (D minor) from autumn 1882 to spring 1883; he himself called it a continuation of the first quartet, and it really is a kind of ending to that musical autobiography, because Smetanov's artistic personality is manifested in the work for the last time, but under the veil of the gloomy mood of a great sufferer. The introduction and half-note, completed in September 1883 as the first part of the intended orchestral suite Prague Carnival, already means the retreat of the master's creative power, but the score of the first outings of Viola's comic singing play (to the words of Eliška Krásnohorská) based on Shakespeare's "The Twelfth Night"), which from 1883 instrumented according to a sketch from 1874, more and more showed signs of growing mental illness, until finally at the end of January 1884 he stopped working for good. Smetana's mental and physical condition deteriorated so much that on March 2, 1884, when in Prague his sixtieth birthday was celebrated with a concert, he could no longer be present; On April 20, with the contribution of his old friend Josef Srb, he was transported to the Prague Institute for the Insane, where on May 12, 1884, after four o'clock in the afternoon, he completed his life rich in great artistic achievements and great suffering. He was famously buried on May 15 in Vyšehrad.

Smetana's importance lies not only in the rare level and versatility of his personal talent and artistry, which ranks him among the leading composers of the nineteenth century, but also, and above all, in the way in which he beneficially intervened in the historical development of Czech music. He was above all a thoroughly modern artist who saw his main task in progressive work, in elevating both art itself and the general meaning for it. It was natural that the musician, who out of deep conviction called Liszt his master, who made the progress of art in the sense that he "taught about it so magnificently and so truthfully" his artistic creed, became on the one hand an adherent of program music, then still badly heresied, and he also gained credit for its development in the field of symphonic and chamber music, on the one hand, in the great dispute about the essence of opera, he fundamentally joined the direction of R. Wagner, in whom he saw "a real reformer who took dramatic truth more seriously than all his opponents together" and with whom he asked in his criticisms that the opera should be primarily a drama. He also did not hesitate to the criticism that he belongs to the "new German school", to say directly: "Yes, if the new German school means progress, then I belong to it, at least I try to write as I feel, nothing else is looked at". Therefore also the accessory to a direction which fought against every template to which "the old forms sang" could not make such a strong, distinctive spirit a mere imitator; Liszt, Chopin, Wagner were Smetana's only starting point for the full development of his own artistic individuality, on which he himself and his defenders always rightly weighed against opponents who accused him of imitating "foreign", non-Czech models. After all, the Czechness of music in the sense of Smetanov was not even possible without turning away from old, traditionalist views. The opinion of his predecessors and contemporaries, that Czechness is tied to simple forms of folk art that can at most be imitated, transcribed, varied, etc., but that he does not agree with the highest, most complex forms of modern symphonic and dramatic music, composer of the cycle "Motherland", quartet " From my life", "Libuše", in which his slogan ¨"modernity and Czechness" was brilliantly realized, he refuted once and for all, reconciling the supposed disputes between the national idea and the pursuit of progress with historically memorable artistic acts, of which only the genius of the spirit of the people was capable imbued with his It was already clear to all slightly more modern-minded Czech musicians in the last years of the 1960s that Smetan should be considered the founder of our national music, and this was a perfect confirmation. Smetanov's foresight was also evident in the fact that he was the first to give the Czech word sung a real Czech sound. From the very beginning, expressive declamation was a self-evident requirement for him, but starting with "Libuší" he understood it in the sense of stressed prosody, which he helped to win over the hitherto unprincipled arbitrariness in the field of music. And as a wise educator of general taste unswervingly pursuing a clear goal, those concessions that the audience recognized as good for the theatrical act in "Branibore", he suddenly took back in his other operas; in "Libuš", however, he stopped saving such a reserve for a better future for the National Theatre. After all, he did not even consider this work to be his last word; he longed for the opportunity to write yet another tragic opera of a grand style, but that was no longer granted to him. Smetana also excelled as a performing artist. He was a conductor who was able to breathe his spirit into the choir he led and take it with him, to his own take-off, and a pianist who combined especially a delicate touch and a sensitive delivery with a rare technique, so that he belonged to the best interpreters of Chopin As administrator of the Opera of the Provisional Theater through the fact that he had only a small authority, and that at the worst time, when the summer saisons of Arenna caused a flood of operettas and farces, to raise the artistic level of Czech opera and to encourage domestic production, he did more in eight years than his opponents, if they were at the oar. Smetana's influence on contemporary Czech composers was initially only one-sided. For, while the popularity of "The Sold Bride" strongly beckoned to follow, so that soon a number of comic operas and operettas were created (started with Blodková's "In the Well" already in 1867) which, although on the whole of a lighter grain, still showed an obvious effort to walk the paths of the folk Czech character Smetánový, the master remained otherwise almost quite alone, indeed the sad fate of "Dalibor" led our then dramatic composers in a serious field away from more modern views rather towards the practical eclecticism of ordinary grand opera, in which Meyerbeer's influences prevailed, although sometimes Verdi's or Gounod's also clearly broke through . Only in the 1970s did the situation change, when Smetana found worthy collaborators, especially in Antonín Dvořák (v.t.) and Zdenek Fibich (v.t.). Dvořák, who supplemented Smetana's programmatic and dramatic music with absolute music in the symphonic and chamber fields, soon cultivated not only in his comic folk operas, but also in the field of instrumental Czech direction following the example of Smetanova and later, but only after the death of thimaster, he even turned to program music and to a more modern understanding of choral compositions. Fibich, on the other hand, cultivated symphonic poetry right from his youth, then continued the efforts of the Smetanovs in terms of the development of the dramatic style in general and with regard to the perfect declamation of the Czech word in particular, and was the first to strike the Czech folk ballad tone in his melodramas. As long as Smetana was alive, only a few of his compositions penetrated abroad, for example the quartet "Z mého života", a piano trio, some numbers from the cycle "Vlasti" (especially "Vltava" and the overture "Prodané vésty" (as a "miracle overture"). This entire opera was given in 1870 in St. Petersburg and in 1873 in Zagreb and was favorably received here and there by the audience, but the Russian critics wrote about it so harshly, even dismissively, that the failure was one of the most bitter experiences of the Smetanas. The attempt to present "The Bartered Bride " to the Paris Comic Opera, performed for the first time in 1869 by the composer himself, was not successful. In 1881, "Two Widows" were performed in Hamburg and received decisive recognition. But only after the extremely great reception of four performances of "The Sold Bride" and two of ", performed on the stage of the International Music and Theater Exhibition in Vienna at the beginning of June 1892 by the ensemble of the National Theater at the initiative of the then director F. A. Šubert, opened non-Czech stages to Smetana's operas, some of which won a firm place in the repertoire of German theaters.


Literature. An annotated catalog of all the master's compositions in chronological order along with a biographical feature includes the file of dr. Karel Teige Skladby Smetana (1893), forming the first volume of Contributions to the biography and artistic activity of master Bedřich Smetana. The second volume is Dopisy Smetalovy (1896), also published by Teig, the main part of which was already printed in "Dalibor" in the eighties. Excerpts from the Smetana notes were published by J. Srb-Debrnov, From the diaries of Bedřich Smetana (1902) and Lad. Dolanský, Bedřich Smetana in the years 1840 - 1847 ("Our time", 1903). Documentary reports on the family and parents of Bedřich Smetana were submitted by dr. Alois Hnilička ("Svetozor", 1898). Criticisms and articles by Smetana from "Národní listů" (1864 - 65) and from "Slavoje" (1862 printed) are in the book Ot. Hostinského: Bedřich Smetana and his struggle for modern Czech music (1901), depicting mainly the decade 1864 - 74 and also containing a selection of articles about Smetana written in the years 1870 - 1894. Omitting the magazine articles, it is appropriate to include these separate writings about Smetana, about his art and acting time: Ot. Hostinský, On the current state and direction of Czech music (1885), Eliška Krásnohorská, Bedřich Smetana Biographical sketch and his artistic influence (1885); Em. Chvála, A Quarter Century of Czech Music (1887); dr. V. V. Zelený, About Bedřich Smetanova (posthumous edition of magazine articles with an introduction by Julio Zeyer, 1894); Bronislav Wellek, Friedrich Smetana (1895); F. V. Krejčí, Bedřich Smetana (1900); dr. Wall Nejedlý, Bedřich Smetana (1903).

bottom of page