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Bedrich Smetana (1824 - 1884)


from "Ma Vlast"

Known as the father of Czech music, Bedfich Smetana was born in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. He showed musical talent when very young - at five he played the violin in string quartets with his family, and at six gave his first public piano recital. He studied music in Prague, later deciding to open his own music school. This he did in 1848, the year in which a series of revolutions swept Europe, and these events fired his nationalist ideals on behalf of the Czech people, who at that time were subjects of the Austrian empire. During the 1860s and 1870s he completed a series of operas on national Czech subjects, of which the most famous is The Bartered Bride. In 1874 he went deaf. From this time on he was constantly fighting ill-health and depression, until his death in 1884.

Written in 1874, Sárka is the third of the set of six symphonic poems comprising Ma Vlast, and is a gruesome story. Sárka is the name of a woman, jilted in love, who swears vengeance not only on her lover, but all men. A group of soldiers, led by a knight with the unlikely name of Ctirad, comes to quell Sárka and her group of rebellious women. But Sárka ties herself to a tree, pretends to be in distress, and fools Ctirad into falling in love with her. Ctirad and his men are wined and dined by the women, until they all fall asleep -at which point ~árka and her band of women massacre the entire party.

Though only ten minutes long, the music is in five distinct sections, depicting the violent and passionate Sárka, Ctirad and his men arriving, Ctirad falling in love with Sárka, the drinking party and falling asleep, and finally the bloody climax.

from Ma Vlast

The son of a Bohemian brewer, Bedrich Smetana is seen as the founder of a Czech national school of music; such operas as “The Bartered Bride" are staples of the Czech repertoire and his cycle of six symphonic poems Má Vlast (My Country) is performed annually at the Prague Spring, the great national cultural festival. Vltava is the second of this cycle, and portrays the river, called the Moldau by German-speaking Czechs, which flows through the Bohemian countryside and the city of Prague before joining the River Elbe.

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