Click below to hear our patriotic assembly song of the week.
Featured Musician of the Week:
BEDRICH SMETANA Czech Republic 1824 - 1884
The Founder of Czech National Music
Featured Music of the Week:
NATIONALISM IN MUSIC
Listening Example: The Moldau Section 1 - "Two Small Springs" Section 2 - "The River"
Prague, in the Czech Republic
Before Thanksgiving we learned about Prague in the Czech Republic. This week we will listen to music by the Czech composer, Bedrich Smetana [BED-rick SMEH-tan-a]. Smetana is known as the “founder of Czech national music”.
During the 1800’s, countries in Europe developed a sense of patriotism about their homelands, including their languages, customs and national costumes. This led to a political movement called nationalism.
Nationalism in music is when composers use legends, folk songs, dances, or scenery from their homeland to help their music identify their country. For example, nationalism in our country would be cowboy music of the western frontier, or Dixieland jazz.
Our listening example this week is a musical portrayal of the Vlatava [vlah-TAH-vah] River that runs through the Czech countryside and the city of Prague . It is in the form of a symphonic poem that has short sections describing different scenes along the river. Each section of the music has its own descriptive title.
Here are the descriptive titles Smetana assigned to the musical sections:
Two springs join at the source of the river
The main river theme
A forest hunt
A peasant wedding
Moonlight dance of water nymphs
The rapids of St. John
The river at its widest point
Vyserhad, the ancient castle
The German word for Vlatava is Moldau [mol-dow], so Smetana named his symphonic poem The Moldau. He wrote the music following a trip he took down the river in the 1870’s, and it describes the things he saw. TheMoldau is a well-known, important composition from the romantic era.
The source of the Vlatava River
LISTEN FOR . . Today we will hear the first two sections of The Moldau: 1) “two springs depicting the source of the river”, and 2) “the river theme”. Flutes play fast running notes to depict the two rippling springs. The violins then play an expansive, folk like melody to represent the river. You can hear the river swirling and surging in the music.
CLICK BELOW to hear the first two sections of The Moldau. The scenes are not of the Vltava, but provide a good representation of the musical idea. The main river theme ends at 3:20 minutes.
Listening Example: The Moldau
Section 4 - "Peasant Wedding"
During Smetana’s lifetime, the Czech Republic was called Czechoslovakia. Smetana lived in a large region known as Bohemia. Smetana’s music was full of Bohemian folk music and legends. He moved to Prague in 1862 and started working as a composer, a pianist, an orchestra conductor and a music teacher. He was one of several European composers to establish a national style of music for their country.
The Moldau was not Smetana’s only symphonic poem. In music, a group of compositions having a common theme is called a “cycle”. Smetana wrote a cycle of six symphonic poems which he called Ma Vlast [mah vlahst]. In English, this means “My Country” or “My Fatherland”. His musical poems were about different aspects of Czechoslovakia.
In The Moldau, the third musical scene is called “Forest hunt”. Hunting along the riverbank is suggested by hunting calls and fanfares played by French horns and trumpets.
Our listening example today is the fourth musical section titled “Peasant wedding”. For this scene, Smetana used the national Bohemian country dance called the polka. The strings play the light, bouncy dance rhythm.
The Polka - a national dance of Bohemia
LISTEN FOR . . . Smetana did something creative here. He wrote the music to gradually grow louder as the boat approaches the celebration. It then gradually fades out, suggesting the boat moving past the scene and on down the river. In our video, the dancers you will see look like maybe they’re doing a swing dance instead of a polka. [4:30 – 6:05]
Smetana had something in common with Beethoven. At age 50, he became completely deaf. But like Beethoven, in spite of his handicap, he wrote some of his finest works after he could no longer hear. These included his symphonic poems. The Moldau was written in just three weeks shortly after Smetana became deaf. The music’s fresh, optimistic mood gives no hint of the anguish and despair the composer must have been feeling. And remember, even if a composer cannot hear music out loud, he can still hear it in his head to write it.
Symphonic poems are a type of program music. This means they have a written program describing the music. TheMoldau has contrasting musical sections that represent the scenes described in the program Smetana wrote for his audience to read:
“The composition depicts the course of the river, beginning from its two small sources, one cold, the other warm, the joining of both streams into one; then the flow of the Moldau through forests and across meadows, through the countryside where merry feasts are celebrated; water nymphs dance in the moonlight; on nearby rocks can be seen the outline of ruined castles, proudly soaring into the sky. The Moldau swirls through the St. John Rapids and flows in a broad stream toward Prague. It passes Vysehrad (where an ancient royal castle once stood), and finally the river disappears in the distance as it flows majestically into the Elbe.”
"The Rapids of St. John"
Our listening example today is the most exciting part of the music, the section called “The rapids”. Rapids are a series of small, rocky waterfalls where the river is very turbulent.
LISTEN FOR . . . The full orchestra plays and the brass instruments portray the power of the river. Timpani rolls depict the depth of the water. We hear the high piccolo and cymbal crashes as waves crash against rocks. The music quickly builds to a loud crescendo as the water swirls through the dangerous area and returns to the main river.
Prior to the rapids, we hear a calm, serene section of music called "The Dance of Water Nymphs". Bohemia has a history of legends about water sprites and fairies who dance at night as the light of the moon sparkles on the water. The longest section of the music, this episode begins at 6:00 minutes and lasts until about 9:30 minutes, when the music begins to build as the "river theme" returns.
The Vlatava River is commonly referred to as the Czech national river. With a length of 270 miles, it is the longest river within the Czech Republic. It begins at the southern border near Germany and Austria, where it is called the Moldau, then flows north through the center of Prague.
The Vltava then flows north through Germany and empties into the North Sea.
This week we have seen images and representations of things that inspired Smetana to use his imagination and write a musical poem about this river. Today we will review the folklike “river theme” with its running notes evoking the movement of water, and watch how the music is created.
MUSIC LISTENING LINK
CLICK BELOW to hear the main "river theme".
Listening Example: The Moldau
Section 9: "Vyserhad, the Ancient Castle"
Musical styles often change as a result of what is going on in the world at that time. Nationalism developed as a result of political changes in Europe. Smetana was not the only 19th-century composer writing music that had a national sound to it. There were composers from Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Finland; from Russia and Italy. Nationalism was felt in countries whose own musical heritage had been controlled by other countries during times of war or revolutions. In every land, this “national spirit” was found mostly in the peasant class, the everyday common folk.
But a genuine feeling of national style does not come just from folk songs, folk dances, or patriotic subjects. A piece of music will sound Russian or Polish or Italian when its rhythm, melody, tone colors and texture comes from national traditions. For example, French composer Chopin [show-PAN] transformed the dances of his native Poland into great musical art.
Nationalism also had an impact on American music. The Czech composer Dvorak [da-VORE-jak] visited our country and encouraged American musicians to use our own culture to create an American national sound. In the mid-1800’s, the leading American nationalist composer was Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the first American concert pianist to be recognized internationally. He wrote music using African-American melodies and rhythms. Edward McDowell was an outstanding musician in America whose works were based on melodies of Native American Indians. And the American leader of band music, John Philip Sousa, wrote The Stars and Stripes Forever.
Smetana’s influence in the Czech Republic has been recognized through parks, statues and plaques.
Many composers and important people have been recognized on postage stamps. Smetana’s face was used for Czech currency!
Our listening example is the final section of TheMoldau. The river has reached its widest point and flows past Vysehrad, an ancient royal castle in Prague. Brasses and woodwinds play a majestic melody with cymbal crashes. The violins continue to portray the river while the music gets gradually softer as the river flows off into the distance. Then Smetana adds two final chords, as if to say, “The End”. [11:40 - 13:18]