If There Is Much In The Window There Should Be More In The Room

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Smetana Ma vlast (My Fatherland) No. 2. Vltava (Moldau) Conductor: Rafael Kubelík Czech 1990

Má vlast (traditionally translated as My Country or more literally My Fatherland) is a set of six symphonic poems composed between 1874 and 1879 by the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. While it is often presented as a single work in six movements, and outside of Vltava almost universally recorded that way, the individual pieces were conceived as a set of individual works.

In these works Smetana combined the symphonic poem form pioneered by Franz Liszt with the ideals of nationalistic music which were current in the late nineteenth century. Each poem depicts some aspect of the countryside, history, or legends of Bohemia.

Vltava, also known by its German name Die Moldau (or The Moldau), was composed between 20 November and 8 December 1874 and was premiered on 4 April 1875. It is about 12 minutes long, and is in the key of E minor.

In this piece, Smetana uses tone painting to evoke the sounds of one of Bohemia's great rivers. In his own words:

The composition describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer's wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night's moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St. John's Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vyšehrad, and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Labe (or Elbe, in German).


Vltava (Moldau)
The two sources of the Moldau – Woods; Hunt – Peasant wedding – Moonlight; Nymphs’ round–dance – Rapids of St. John – The Moldau flows broadly onwards; Vysehrad.

Bedrich Smetana is a heroic figure in Czech culture, and even today is accorded higher public esteem in his own country than better-known composers such as Dvorák.

The son of a Bohemian brewer, he is seen as the founder of a Czech national school of music; such operas as "Libuse" and "The Bartered Bride" are staples of the Czech repertoire and his cycle of symphonic poems Má Vlast (My Country) is performed annually at the Prague Spring, the great national cultural festival.

But it takes away nothing of Smetana’s significance in his own country to point out that his major works, and particularly Má Vlast, are remarkable and very original achievements in their own right.

Nationalism is not everything in Smetana’s music – he was brought up speaking German and is not known to have written a word of Czech before the age of 32. In the polyglot Austrian Empire of which the modern Czech Republic was a part until 1918,
a background of this sort was perfectly consistent with a passionate Czech patriotism.

Likewise, Má Vlast is an unquestionably patriotic work, but it uses the common musical language of the Central European tradition (with a particular debt to Smetana’s friend Liszt) and does so in a remarkably innovative way.

The idea of composing an 80-minute suite of symphonic poems was wholly new when Smetana began Má Vlast in 1872, and the six individual works that make up the cycle all deal successfully with the problem – then one of the hottest subjects of musical controversy – of writing programmatic music with true symphonic integrity.

Vltava (1874) is the second symphonic poem in Má Vlast, and portrays the river, called the Moldau by German-speaking Czechs such as Smetana, which rises in the _umava forest and flows through the Bohemian countryside and the city of Prague before joining the River Elbe.

For Smetana, the course of the river provided a ready-made musical structure;
Vltava is a sort of rondo, with the flowing theme of the river recurring in different forms between colourful episodes depicting Bohemian life and folklore along the riverside.

Two brooks, portrayed on two flutes, form the sources of the river; these flow into the main stream of the river itself, the surging string melody which Smetana is said to have derived from a Swedish folk-song but which now sounds quintessentially Czech.

Hunting horns are heard in the forests, before the river flows past a rustic wedding celebration where the guests are dancing a polka. Smetana led the way (here and in his String Quartet "From my Life") in introducing this light-hearted dance to symphonic music.

The next episode portrays moonlight shimmering on the river in magical orchestral colours, and Smetana evokes the legend of the Rusalkas, the water-nymphs who feature prominently in Slav folklore and would later form the subject of Dvorák’s best-known opera.

The music accelerates and grows agitated as the river crashes over the Rapids of St. John, above Prague, and finally sweeps through the Czech capital itself. The majestic chorale-theme of Vysehrad, the great rock-fortress that is the symbol of the Czech nation, towers over the closing bars, as the Vltava flows unstoppably onwards to the Elbe.

Smetana - Ma Vlast (Moldau) Vltava

Rafael Kubelik - Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

1990 Prague's Spring

This is a once-in-a-lifetime dream recording of Smetana's Moldau. Rafael Kubelik conducting the Czech Philharmonic filmed in video in an outdoor concert at the Old Town Square in Prague, few months after the Velvet Revolution! A truly priceless record of one of the 20th century's greatest conductors.



  1. 'Tis very strange, but again, your videos aren't posted on my browser. Blank space. Seems like it takes a while for them to "get through". But I know it's good stuff. I have this on CD!

  2. Oh, that seems odd.
    I have it posted and
    playing well as it should.
    Try reloading this page
    and see how it goes.
    I hope you can get through
    as this is something truly wonderful :-)

  3. Yep, it's working now! Very nice... I like the first bit especially.

  4. Great!
    Yes... like you, I do love the
    two harps doing the opening
    arpeggios, then one by one is
    followed by the winds,
    then the strings join before
    the whole orchestra is
    employed to reach a climax.

    As ridiculous as it may sound,
    this music mounts in my soul,
    Like the great trees,
    murmuring waters,
    Of worlds on a journey,
    murmuring its ballads
    Through splendid rivers,
    velvety green meadows,
    Nymphs and fauns
    between oleanders,
    Wine of daylight
    Sunbeams entwine its thin arms
    Flowers strewn along the grassy knoll
    On the delighted earth
    Moonbeams sighing around you
    Stars spring in the moss,
    Spring comes,
    a small rustle
    Of wings in the sacred woods
    Like facing the horizons,
    I let the wind
    snow of rose petals...

  5. Wow!

    What a beautiful tribute...

    the breath of inspiration is working wonders!

    I must come back and watch this video once more to appreciate it again and also to work out what arpeggios are! (I'm not a musical aficionado...)

  6. Arpeggios here go
    tu-ru-ru-ru-tu tu-ru-ru-ru
    tut tu-ru-ru-ru-ru-ru-ru... lol
    In essence, notes are
    played one at a time
    instead of simultaneously
    and then at 0:56, you're
    ushered grandly
    with lots more soul
    to the 'meat' of the music :-)

  7. Oh, thanks for the explanation!

    I've just realized why I couldn't see your videos originally. Your videos don't seem to come out when I use the Opera browser, even though my videos come out fine, but on Safari and I'm sure all other browsers it comes out fine. A weird quirk then.

    I'm also lol-ing at that guy who kept fiddling with his instrument at the beginning, and again at 2:40, haha! But now, being more serious, yes, this is a wonderful piece!!!

  8. Brilliant!
    It’s always a good thing
    when people use browsers
    that they like and love.
    I for one love my Firefox.
    You switched to Safari, then?
    Very well. :-)
    Now, you'll be able
    to watch my videos
    with much ease....

  9. It depends on the computer. I use Opera at my parents' usually if I can, or in the library Firefox, or right now, Safari. It just depends. I don't have a computer at home. ;^) Library has no volume, and even when I have volume, often I need to "keep quiet" because of others around... :^)

  10. But yes, your videos come out fine now, and I now know why they weren't working for me before (because I was using Opera).