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Bedrich Smetana

born: 1824-03-02
died: 1884-05-12
birthplace: Litomysl
diedplace: Praha

Czech national composer. Son of a brewer from Litomysl, 11th child and first boy (after him, 7 more children were born). Father was a keen musician and taught young boy violin since the age of 1 (and later piano, too). In his age of six, young Smetana already performed in public. He attended basic school in Jindrichuv Hradec where the whole family moved from Litomysl. Later he studied grammar school in Jihlava, Nemecky Brod (today Havlickuv Brod) and Prague but he was interested in social events and music rather than studies. In Prague, he was finally fired from the school because he stopped attending it. This made his father so angry that he forced young Smetana to finish secondary education in Pilsen under the supervision of his older cousin who was a professor of the Premonstratensian Gymnasium. Smetana then returned to Prague and decided to fully concentrate on music. In 1844 he got the position of music teacher in the family of the Earl Leopold Thun. At the same time, he studied composition under Joseph Proksch whose private institute was the most acknowledged in Prague. In 1847 he finished his musical studies as well as teaching the Thun family. He intended to become a piano virtuoso but the things did not come out as he expected, so he decided to establish his own musical institute in 1848. Musical lessons and occasional individual performances helped him to gain financial independence; thanks to that, in 1849 he was able to marry Katerina Kolarova whom he know since his stay in Pilsen. Within 5 years they had four daughters, three of whom unfortunately died. The death of the most tallented Bedriska hurt him the most; he composed Piano Trio in G Minor in her memory, which was highly appreciated by F.Liszt. The unstable political situation after 1850 and financial problems made Smetana to accept the proposal to become a piano teacher in Göteborg, Sweden. However, hard weather did not do any good to his wife's health; she suffered from tuberculosis. Smetana decided to come back to Bohemia with her in 1859 but on the way back she died in Dresden. He later dedicated the third part of his string quartet "From my Life" to her. Back in Bohemia, he spent most of his time in his summer residence in Obristvi by Melnik where he composed and where he in 1860 married his second wife, Barbora Ferdinandova. He returned to Sweden for one more year; then in Prague applied for the position of the conservatory director unsuccessfully. He had financial problems which were finally solved after the success of his first two operas. He became the conductor of the Temporary Theatre (predecessor of Czech National Theatre). After 1870 his health is deteriorating rapidly. Only recent research revealed the true nature of his health problems. In his age of 11, he got an injury by a blast of a bottle filled by explosives. He got an inflammation in his face which was not properly healed. As a result, he suffered from a chronical inflammation of arachnopia (brain cuticles). This brought him various problems for the rest of his life which got worse all the time, resulting in comlete deafness. He spent his last 10 years in solitude in the forest house of his son-in-law and daughter in Jabkenice close to Mlada Boleslav. He still went on composing and wrote some of his top works (My Country, Czech Dances and some operas). However, he suffered from severe pains which stopped him working more and more frequently. In February 1884 his status worsened so much that he had to be moved to the insane hospital in Prague where he died three weeks later.

By his works, Smetana became one of the most important compositors of the New Romantic period. Prodana nevesta (The Bartered Bride) was performed at the World Exhibition in Vienna 1892 with a success that ensured him the world-wide fame. Libuse was played at the opening of the Czech National Theatre in 1881. Smetana is rightly called the founder of Czech national music. His music is penetrated by the spirit of Czech traditional songs and dances in such a natural way that nobody of his predecessors was able to achieve (nor too many of his successors apart from Dvorak).

  • Operas
    • Branibori v Cechach (Brandenburgers in Bohemia) , 1863
    • Prodana nevesta (The Bartered Bride) , 1866
    • Dalibor , 1867
    • Libuse , 1872
    • Dve vdovy (The Two Widows) , 1874
    • Hubicka (The Kiss) , 1876
    • Tajemstvi (The Secret) , 1878
    • Certova stena (The Devil's Wall) , 1880
    • Viola (incomplete)
  • Orchestral works
    • Symphony in E-Major „Triumphal“
    • The Celebratory Ouverture in C-Major - on the occasion of laying down the Foundation Stone of the Na
    • Flourish for Shakespeare's Richard III.
    • Ouvertures for the Marionette Plays (Doctor Faust, Oldrich and Bozena)
  • Vocal writings
    • Songs (Vecerni pisne/Evening Songs, Prvni pisne/First Songs etc.)
    • Choruses (Czech Song, Song of Freedom, Meditabitur etc.)
  • Symphonic poems
    • My Country (Vysehrad, Vltava, Sarka, From Czech Fields and Woods, Tabor, Blanik)
    • Swedish Songs (Richard III., Valdsteins's Camp, Haakon Jarl)
  • Chamber works
    • String Quartet in E-Minor (From My Life)
    • String Quartet in D-Minor
    • From the Homeland - duos for violin and piano
  • Piano works
    • Czech Dances (4 polkas, 10 other dances-Hulan, Obkrocak, Cibulicka, Sousedska, Medved, Dupak,…)
    • Sonata in E-Minor
    • Ouverture in E-Minor
    • Rondo in C-Major
    • Koncertni etuda Na brehu morskem
    • 3 Salon Polkas
    • 3 Poetic Polkas
    • Piano Trio i G-Minor


Mala encyklopedie hudby (dr. Jar. Smolka; &kolektiv, Supraphon 1983)
Kniha o hudbe/Book of Music (V.Holzknecht a kol., Orbis 1964)


Vltava (MP3) (symphonic poem from "My Country", played by Czech Filharmony Orchestra, cond. Rafael Kubelik, Supraphon 1990)
Triumphal Symphony (MP3) (III.Scherzo, played by Czech Filharmony Orchestra, cond. Alois Klima, from Czech Radio Pilsen Broadcasting on 1.1.2008)

  Smetana r.1878  Smetana_(Max_Svabinsky)

Last update 2012-07-04