Bohemian composer. He established a Czech nationalist style in, for example, the operas Prodaná Nevěsta/The Bartered Bride (1866) and Dalibor (1868), and the symphonic suite Má Vlast/My Country (1875–80). He conducted at the National Theatre of Prague in 1866–74.
Smetana was the son of a brewer. He played piano and violin at a very early age and was soon able to play in the family's string quartet. He was educated in Germany and all his life, in spite of his musical nationalism, spoke and wrote Czech like a foreigner. He was sent to school first in Prague and then at Pilsen. His father opposed a musical career, but eventually allowed him to study music in Prague, though with a very small allowance. In 1844 he obtained the post of music master in Count Thun's family, which helped to support him until 1847. In 1848 he took part in the revolution against Austria, married the pianist Kateřina Kolařová, established a school of music for which Liszt supplied funds, and was recommended by Liszt to the Leipzig publisher Kistner.
In 1856 he went to Göteborg in Sweden, where at first he taught but later became conductor of the new Philharmonic Society and gave piano and chamber-music recitals. He returned to Prague in 1859 because the northern climate did not suit his wife, who died at Dresden on the way back. He married Bettina Ferdinandová in 1860 and returned to Sweden in the autumn, but finally returned to Prague in the spring of 1861. After a long tour in Germany, Holland, and Sweden to raise money, he settled in the Czech capital in 1863 and opened another school of music, this time with distinctly national tendencies, and became conductor of the Hlahol choral society. His work was now becoming thoroughly Czech in character, and he began to produce Czech operas in the national theatre established in 1864, of which he became conductor in 1866.
The nationalist opera The Brandenburgers in Bohemia was a success in January 1866, although Prodaná Nevesta/The Bartered Bride, for which he is most well known, was a failure in May. In 1872 he began composing his great cycle of symphonic poems, Má Vlast/My Country which is often performed in the Czech Republic at times of national celebration. In 1874 he suddenly became totally deaf, as the result of a syphilitic infection. He still continued to compose operas as well as the string quartet From my Life, with its strong autobiographical theme, depicting his love for his first wife and children (all of whom had died by 1859). At the beginning of the last movement, the onset of his deafness is portrayed by a piercing high note on the violin (representing the condition he had, where he could hear a high note in his ear all the time). In 1881 he had his last major success, when his great patriotic festival opera Libuše was premiered in Prague. In 1883 he was certified insane and in May 1884 was taken to an asylum, where he died.
WorksOperaProdaná Nevesta/The Bartered Bride (1866), Dalibor (1868), Libuše (1881), Two Widows (1874).
Orchestral cycle of symphonic poems Má Vlast/My Country containing Vyšehrad, Vltava, Šárka, In the Bohemian Woods and Fields, Tábor, Blanik (1872–79).
Chamber and piano piano trio in G minor (1855), two string quartets (1876, 1883; the first From my Life); 8 Op. nos. of piano works and many miscellaneous piano pieces including Wedding Scenes, Scenes from Macbeth, and Czech dances.
Smetana, Bedřich My Homeland
Smetana, Bedřich Polka
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