Michael McCooe – Composer: Smetana
Bedřich Smetana (2 March 1824 – 12 May 1884) was regarded as the father of Czech music in his homeland whose music became closely identified with his country’s aspirations to independent statehood.
Smetana became internationally renowned for his opera The Bartered Bride and for the symphonic cycle Má Vlast (“My Homeland”), which portrays the history, legends and landscape of his homeland.
A naturally gifted pianist, Smetana gave his first public performance at the age of six and performed regularly throughout his education in school before studying music in Prague.
Smetana wrote his first nationalistic music pieces during the 1848 Prague uprising, in which he briefly participated. He struggled to establish a career in Prague and moved to Sweden to become a music teacher, where he began to write large-scale orchestral works and develop his style as a composer.
Return to Prague
As Prague became more liberal, Smetana returned home permanently and became involved in the musical life of the city. He became an active champion of the new genre of Prague opera and his first two pieces were premiered at the city’s new Provisional Theatre in 1866. His famous piece The Bartered Bride was written, alongside Brandenburgers in Bohemia.
Smetana became the theatre’s principal conductor, though works from Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner were also popular at the time which is believed to have restricted his creative output during his time at the theatre.
Later life & legacy
Smetana became completely deaf by the end of 1874 and resigned from the Provisional Theatre. His contributions to Czech music were increasingly recognised and honoured, but his mental health deteriorated and led to him being incarcerated until his death in 1884.
Advocates of Smeatana have raised the composer’s status in his homeland to higher than that of his contemporaries and successors. However, relatively few of Smetana’s works are internationally renowned and many regard Antonín Dvořák as a more significant Czech composer.
You can listen to some of my favourite classical pieces on my Michael McCooe SoundCloud profile, which is updated regularly.