My fatherland

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Bedřich Smetana (1824–84)

Mein Vaterland ( Czech Má vlast ) JB 1: 112 is a cycle of six symphonic poems by the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana , which was premiered as a complete work on November 5, 1882 in Prague . Smetana composed the cycle between 1874 and 1879 when she was completely deaf. The playing time is approx. 75 minutes.

Preliminary remark

Bedřich Smetana is one of the most important composers in the Czech Republic, alongside Antonín Dvořák , Zdeněk Fibich , Leoš Janáček , Josef Suk and Bohuslav Martinů , but during his lifetime the country was still part of the Austro-Hungarian multi-ethnic state . Like many fellow campaigners in the political arena, Smetana works on the musical ground to build a national culture that opposes the dominance of the Habsburg monarchy . His strategy: radical program music, the composition of which not only follows "internal musical" laws and structures, but also refers to external music through tone painting . Smetana took his chance. For him, the Czech national aspirations were related to his personal situation: So far, he had not succeeded in making a name for himself as a musician, conductor or pianist nationwide. Now he had the opportunity to build a modern musical life in Prague and at the same time to create the financial basis and the freedom for his own artistic projects. The stylization of the "founder of Czech national music" was mainly promoted by his skillful choice of materials and motifs, but above all by a specifically launched and politically motivated elevation of the composer to the leading idol of the Czech nation.

In addition, the Má vlast cycle had a lasting influence on the formation of a Czech identity at the time of its creation as well as in the 20th century, both among the Czechs and in German-speaking countries; This music even maintained the resistance and will to survive of Czech concentration camp prisoners. The performance of Má vlast (following the Czech national anthem Kde domov můj ) traditionally forms the opening of the musical Prague Spring every year on May 12th, the anniversary of the composer's death .

The composition of Má vlast is thematically related to the opera Libuše from 1872, which Smetana had conceived as a national festival. The cycle, the time of which was overshadowed by the composer's total deafness , was initially planned as a four-part series; The last two parts were only created after a three-year break. Smetana fell seriously ill while working on the composition and wrote in his diary in the fall of 1874:

“I've been sitting at home for almost a week, not allowed to go out. Must have wrapped my ears in cotton wool and stay calm. I fear the utmost: that I have completely lost my hearing. I do not hear anything! How long should this condition last? Should I never recover? "

Má vlast starts with Liszt and at the same time goes beyond him. Critics said that Smetana wanted to "defeat" the master. While his symphonic poems transform literary material into music, Smetana puts musical over narrative logic. Descriptive elements are also essential for him - because what would program music be without a program? -, but in addition to descriptions of specific non-musical events, there are many general invocations of mythical figures, historical places and Bohemian landscapes.

Overall form "My Fatherland"

The symphonic cycle Má vlast consists of six independent parts:

No. title opus Time of origin Initial release* Orchestral line-up Tempo indications key Playing time
1. Vysehrad T 110

JB 1: 112/1

1872-74 Prague, 1880

Publisher: Urbánek

Piccolo, flute (2), oboe (2), clarinet (2), bassoon (2), horn (4), trumpet (2), trombone (3), tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbal, harp (2), Violin (2), viola, cello, double bass Lento - Largo maestoso - Grandioso poco largamente - Allegro vivo ma non agitato - Meno mosso - Più allegro e poco agitato - Più mosso agitato - Più lento - Lento ma non troppo - Largamente E flat major approx. 16 '
2. Vltava [The Moldau ] T 111

JB 1: 112/2

1874 Prague, 1880

Publisher: Urbánek

1st flute, 2nd flute (also piccolo), oboe (2), clarinet (2), bassoon (5), horn (4), trumpet (2), trombone (3), tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbals, Bass drum, harp, violin (2), viola, cello (2), double bass The two sources of the Vltava: Allegro commodo non agitato - forest hunt - peasant wedding: L'istesso tempo, ma moderato - moonlight; Nymphenreigen: L'istesso tempo - Tempo I - St. Johann rapids - The Vltava flows wide: Più moto - Vyšehrad motif - disappearing in the distance E minor approx. 12 '
3. Šárka T 113

JB 1: 112/3

1875 Prague, 1888

Publisher: Urbánek

Piccolo, flute (2), oboe (2), clarinet (2), bassoon (2), horn (4), trumpet (2), trombone (3), tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbal, violin (2), Viola, cello, double bass Allegro con fuoco ma non agitato - Più moderato assai - Moderato ma con calore - Moderato - Molto vivo - Più vivo A minor approx. 10 '
4th Z českých luhů a hájů

[From Bohemia's grove and hallway]

T 114

JB 1: 112/4

1875 Prague, 1881

Publisher: Urbánek

Piccolo, flute (2), oboe (2), clarinet (2), bassoon (2), horn (4), trumpet (2), trombone (3), tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbal, violin (2), Viola, cello, double bass Molto moderato - Allegro poco vivo, ma non troppo - Meno vivo - Allegro, quasi Polka - Tempo I - Allegro - L'istesso tempo, ma un poco meno vivo - Presto G minor approx. 13 '
5. Tábor T 120

JB 1: 112/5

1878 Prague, 1892

Publisher: Urbánek

Piccolo, flute (2), oboe (2), clarinet (2), bassoon (2), horn (4), trumpet (2), trombone (3), tuba, timpani, cymbal, violin (2), viola, Cello, double bass Lento - L'istesso tempo - Molto vivace - Lento - Molto vivace - Più mosso - Lento maestoso - Più animato D minor approx. 12 '
6th Blaník M 121

JB 1: 112/6

1879 Prague, 1894

Publisher: Urbánek

Piccolo, flute (2), oboe (2), clarinet (2), bassoon (2), horn (4), trumpet (2), trombone (3), tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbal, violin (2), Viola, cello, double bass Allegro moderato - Andante non troppo - Più allegro ma non molto - Più mosso - Meno mosso - Tempo di marcia - Grandioso - Tempo I - Più vivo - Largamente maestoso - Grandioso, meno Allegro - Vivace D minor approx. 15 '

* All six parts were published by Urbánek for the first time, but were first published in 1879–80 as arrangements for piano four hands.

The themes of the Má vlast cycle are myths (nos. 1 and 3), landscapes (nos. 2 and 4) and the history (nos. 5 and 6) of Bedřich Smetana's Czech homeland.

Origin and Effect

Smetana, who became the founder of Czech national music through his operas, especially his Prodaná nevěsta ( The Bartered Bride ), also made an important contribution to the field of Czech program music with his cycle of symphonic poems Má vlast (My Fatherland). In its kind, this cycle forms an instrumental counterpart to the festive opera Libuše : “Both works correspond in terms of the glorification of the homeland and the nation, just as it was the order of the day [...] when the almost centenarian active struggle of the politically oppressed Czech people for their individual character and for full cultural and political life had reached its climax. Má vlast and Libuše are symbols of this national rebirth, which is being completed. ”In the six works in the cycle, Smetana set national myths ( Vyšehrad , Šárka ) to music . national history ( Tábor ), the beauty of nature and the Czech folk life in dance and song ( Vltava , Z českých luhů a hájů [From Bohemian groves and meadows ]) and finally also a hymnal creed on the bright future of the Czech nation ( Blaník ). After the relatively rapid emergence of the first two pairs of symphonic poems, the cycle was provisionally concluded on October 18, 1875 with Aus Böhmens Hain und Flur . The composer spoke of it as a " tetralogy " that initially bore the name Vlast [The Fatherland]. It was not until the six-part cycle, completed on March 9, 1879, that Smetana gave the final title Má vlast while the work was being prepared for printing .

František Augustin Urbánek (1842–1919), Czech publisher and bibliographer

Aware of the uniqueness of his work and in the interest of its dissemination, the otherwise not exactly practical composer initially aimed to have the Vltava go to press . During his trip to Vienna and Würzburg to visit specialists in ear diseases in April 1875, he offered the scores of the first three symphonic poems to the music publisher B. Schott 's Sons in Mainz for printing - but to no avail. Negotiations with the Berlin company Bote & Bock in 1878 were similarly negative , although the composer had declared himself ready to enter into a compromise that was actually unworthy of him: "I do not ask for a fee, except for a few free copies." It was only after the Prague book publisher František Augustin Urbánek started publishing music that the entire cycle My Fatherland was published. Between December 1879 and June 1880, arrangements for piano four hands were initially published which were easier to sell, before the six works were also published in printed scores and with printed parts from 1880. Soon after the publication of the print, Smetana sent one copy each of the Vysehrad and the Vltava to Franz Liszt :

"I have now taken the liberty of sending you, my master, the first two numbers in full score and four-hand piano reduction . All six have been performed repeatedly here in Prague and with extraordinary success, otherwise only the first two in Chemnitz . In As a result of the great success, the local publisher Urbánek risked the expense of editing. "

Smetana himself had proposed a very low fee in the contract with Urbánek of May 14, 1879: 40 guilders per composition for score and parts and 30 guilders for the piano reduction for four hands, a total of 420 guilders for the entire cycle, which he completed in print no longer lived. During his lifetime, after the Vyšehrad and the Vltava, only the edition of From Bohemian Grove and Flur (1881) appeared.

Smetana was not one of those composers who provided the public with interpretations of content and literary comments on their works. In a time of widespread communication of music through the written word, it was expected, especially in the case of a symphonic poem, that the author would convey the “content” of his music to the audience in words. Smetana was somewhat cautious about this request: In his opinion, the title of the work alone was sufficient for the listener's basic orientation and attunement. Smetana built primarily on the eloquence and self-sufficiency of his music and said that “every listener [is] allowed to leave everything else to his imagination and to add whatever he likes to his taste.” In addition, Smetana probably didn't feel at all sufficiently literarily qualified to write programs for his symphonic poems for the public himself. Rather, he relied on eloquent journalists who, if desired, had to do this according to his information and intentions. For example, the explanations on the Vltava that appeared in the press before the premiere in 1875 and in the first print in 1880 , although they did not come from the pen of Smetana, can in some respects be regarded as authorized.

According to a contemporary report, Smetana saw differences between the symphonic poems of Má vlast and his so-called Swedish symphonic poems Richard III, Valdštýnův tábor ( Wallenstein's camp ) and Håkon Jarl. He regarded the latter as “true symphonic poems, of course. I wrote it in Sweden directly under the impression that Liszt's symphonic poems had on me in Weimar. They have the perfect shape like Liszt's. ”With the symphonic poems by Má vlast, on the other hand,“ there is a completely different reason: in these I allowed myself to define a specific, completely new form; they actually only have the name symphonic poems. "

Notes on the individual tone poems

1. Vyšehrad

The early medieval Prague fortress Vyšehrad over the Vltava

was composed from the end of September to November 18, 1874 and premiered on March 14, 1875 in Prague.

The Czech acropolis called Vyšehrad, ancestral seat of the legendary first Bohemian rulers, forms the entrance portal. In the bard's whispering tone, Smetana intones his wistful "Once upon a time", which is then all the more solemnly joined by the hopeful "It will be again". Two harps present the elegiac main theme, which is soon turned into heroic by the entire orchestra. Its transformation, subject to a stormy contrapuntal execution, describes the discord that broke out in the castle and in the country: a mighty struggle that ultimately led to the destruction of the Vyšehrad. Popular, peaceful voices cannot last long. At the end there is a resigned look back at a glorious time that has vanished.

Vyšehrad marks the birth of the Czech people on the castle hill of the same name by the tribal mother Libuše and her husband Přemysl. The main motif is of course as splendid as the fortress at that time, which was of course completely ruined in Smetana's time, and which is echoed again and again in the later pieces of the cycle.

2. Vltava [The Moldau]

Score of the Vltava (first edition 1874)

was written between November 20 and December 8, 1874 and was premiered on April 4, 1875 in Prague. The work was published together with Vyšehrad in December 1879 by Urbánek Verlag in a version for piano four hands; in February 1880 the score and the parts followed, which Smetana had corrected himself.

Vltava ("Moldau", common title in German: Die Moldau ) is considered the most Czech river, so to speak as the country's lifeline, the course of which Smetana follows with his music. The well-known work is often used in school music lessons as one of the prime examples of program music with tone painting and is now one of the most popular and most played symphonic poems of all. In a program note, Smetana describes his composition in the following words:

“The composition depicts the course of the Vltava , starting with the two small springs, the cold and the warm Vltava , through the merging of the two brooks to form a river, the course of the Vltava through forests and meadows, through landscapes where a peasant wedding is being celebrated the nymphs dance their rounds in the moonlight at night . Proud castles, palaces and ruins tower up on the nearby rocks. The Vltava swirls in the Johannis rapids; in a broad train it flows on towards Prague , past the Vyšehrad , and in a majestic course it disappears in the distance into the Elbe . "

Vltava lined Rondo like multiple episodes to each other, the events are accurately indicated by the headings in the score. The sixteenth-note chains on the flutes and clarinets symbolize "The sources of the Moldau" at the very beginning, which also accompany the following "forest hunt", which is dominated by the horns. A "farmer's wedding" is also being celebrated on the banks of the river, with its sparkling polka rhythm, probably the most captivating apotheosis of Bohemian folk music from Smetana's pen , alongside the overture to the opera The Bartered Bride . It is followed by a mysteriously shimmering "dance of nymphs in the moonlight", which again flows into the Vltava theme. But the river is now rushing inexorably towards a dramatic danger: the "St. Johann rapids", which no longer exist because they were sunk in a dam, a good twenty kilometers south of Prague. The main theme can only be taken from bizarre fragments, the foaming and frightening masses of clay crowd together before they finally plunge into the open. "The Vltava flows broadly" is the name of the last section; it passes the Vyšehrad ramparts and thus provides a meaningful, cyclical conclusion to this tone poem in terms of music.

Beginning of the famous Vltava theme (T. 40–47) in the 1st violins and 1st oboe (later also in the flutes)

The literature often emphasizes the proximity of the subject to well-known folk songs - La Mantovana , a popular Italian Renaissance song by Giuseppe Cenci, Ack Värmeland, du sköna , a Swedish folk song that Smetana may have been familiar with from his stay in Gothenburg, today's one Israeli national anthem Hatik'vah or the nursery rhyme All my ducklings (albeit in major) has a very similar melody. However, Smetana himself was not interested in adopting a specific model, rather he referred to the "general validity" of this melody, which is "common to many peoples".

Also Hanns Eisler grabbed at his setting of Brecht Song of the Moldau from 1956 to the popular tune from Smetana's Vltava back. There is also a sung version (1971) by Karel Gott , both in Czech ( Vltava ) and in German ( Die Moldau or Die Täler Meine Heimat ).

3. Šárka

Ctirad a Šárka ( Josef Václav Myslbek , 1881)

was completed on February 20, 1875 and premiered on March 17, 1877.

With the popular Vltava could Šárka never measure. It was not even printed during Smetana's lifetime, but only appeared in a four-hand piano version. As a justification one likes to refer to the allegedly inferior quality of the rugged, bloodthirsty piece. In truth, however, the ballad contains everything that at least the Amazons can expect from a consistent gender struggle. The Bohemian Amazon queen Šárka lures the knight Ctirad into an ambush by faking him female helplessness. He believes he can celebrate a love festival with her in the camp, but is then mercilessly slaughtered with his family ( Bohemian Maiden War ). The women weave Ctirad into the wheel of the other men as a deterrent. However, he survived the ordeal and leaves Šárka buried alive after the final victory. Sharp rhythmic battle scenes, a lively march and nocturnal forest moods guarantee Šárka's effective effect.

4. Z českých luhů a hájů [From the Bohemian grove and corridor]

was finished on October 18, 1875 and premiered on December 10, 1878. Smetana originally conceived the work as the finale of a four-part Vaterland cycle (see Origin and Effect ).

The undeniably more elaborate pastoral Z českých luhů a hájů (common title in German: From Bohemia's Hain and Flur ) has always been able to count on greater approval . Her title corresponds perfectly to the cliché of Smetana's gentle, gentle character. The experience of nature, as the undulating figures of the woodwinds and strings describe it to us at the beginning, is more intoxicating than idyllic. We are in the middle of a heroic landscape. Only slowly fading away, this overwhelming scenery gives way to more contemplative nature impressions, the stroll of a naive village girl and her jubilant summer song, followed by the wonderfully colorfully captured midday silence, a fugitive chorale of pilgrims and the inevitable polka. The concluding coda once again takes up motifs from the introduction, now clearly turned into joy.

Z českých luhů a hájů could basically represent rural life anywhere in the world. How much Smetana hit the bohemian nerve with his "thoughts and feelings when looking at the Bohemian homeland" is shown by the following review of the premiere :

“The work of a true poet and also so purely patriotic! Every theme is so decidedly Czech that it seems to us that we are looking at each other like a folk song. "

5. Tábor

Tábor ( William Henry Bartlett , ca.1850)

was completed on December 13, 1878 and premiered on January 4, 1880.

Tábor is filled with martial eruptions, defiance and anger. The musical core is the old Hussites - Choral Ktož JSU boží bojovníci ( " You who are warriors of God "). The South Bohemian Tábor was the stronghold of the reformer Jan Hus, who was executed by the Inquisition in 1415 . It is a local symbol of the Hussite freedom movement, just as the chorale became a sound symbol of the Bohemian Reformation, comparable to the Protestant " A strong castle is our God ". Horn calls, interrupted by eerie long pauses, formulate the first four notes of the chorale, accompanied in an extremely suggestive manner by a melodiously falling melody line in the strings. The entire movement is - strongly reminiscent of Wagner's " Walkürenritt " - largely monothematic and ends with the bloodcurdling manifestation of this chorale theme.

The Knights of Blaník started from the mountain ( Věnceslav Černý , 1898)

6. Blaník

was finished on March 9, 1879 and premiered on January 4, 1880 together with the tone poem Tábor .

Also Blanik , named after a mountain near Tábor in which an army of knights - led by St. Wenceslas - but sleeps hidden and should help the Czech country in the worst times, uses the Hussite chorale, it becomes increasingly more optimistic after the fierce input chords. Visions of a still outstanding national happiness are dressed in dance-like-cheerful melodies. At the end, Smetana returns to the leitmotif of the first movement and rounds off the six-part cycle: Vyšehrad Castle appears once again as a grandiose, glorified memory of former greatness - and exhorts the Czechs to reflect on the power of freedom.


Individual evidence

  1. ^ "The Vltava" - the cornerstone of the Czech musical culture. Retrieved October 4, 2020 .
  2. a b Linda Maria Koldau: The Moldau. Smetana's cycle "My Fatherland" . Böhlau, Cologne 2007.
  3. a b c d e f g Volker Tarnow: Bedřich Smetana - My Fatherland, cycle of symphonic poems. 2019, accessed April 15, 2020 .
  4. Milan Pospíšil: Mein Vaterland (preface to the study score) . Ernst Eulenburg & Co. GmbH, Mainz 1999.
  5. ^ Regina Károlyi: The main work of the Czech national composer (review). 2007, accessed April 15, 2020 .
  6. Gerhard Anders: From Bohemia's grove and corridor. Retrieved April 15, 2020 .

Web links

Commons : My Fatherland  - Collection of Pictures, Videos and Audio Files