Smetana’s ‘Home’ on the River

Bedřich Smetana sits in front of his museum home

By Baia Dzagnidze

Within walking distance of the Charles Bridge, with an astonishing view of Prague Castle across the Vltava River, you’ll find the Bedřich Smetana Museum.

The display currently presented at the museum is the third permanent exhibition in the history of the museum and was opened in 1998.

Its unusual design is dedicated to Smetana, often regarded as the founder of Czech national music, and is divided into parts by subject and design.

The core of the museum collections is composed of Smetana’s memorabilia, bought in 1928, with iconography, press documents, music archives, a library, and a record library.

Touring the Maestro’s Life

After buying a ticket on the ground floor, you are asked to go upstairs to the second floor and start your journey into the maestro’s life. Near the entrance door to the exhibitions a glass plaque informs you of the basic facts of the museum, in Czech, English, and German languages. The museum also provides visitors with guided tours in Czech, English, or German, or you can borrow printed exhibition guidebooks available in Japanese, English, Swedish, French, and some other European languages.

View of the exhibition spaces, from the 'orchestra' of music stands

Smetana´s childhood, studies, the beginnings of his music career in early 19th century in Prague; and the five years he spent in Göteborg, Sweden, followed by concert tours which took him to Germany and The Netherlands is located in the Green area, where the walls and curtains are in green. Here you can see the letters, career information, pictures of family and other relatives of the maestro, as well as his marriage certificate to Kateřina Kolářová.

The next area, the Blue section, with blue ceiling and carpet, is dedicated to Smetana´s activities from 1862-1874, when he played an important role in the development of Prague´s music life. Here, textile parchments feature copies of original documents, posters, honorary diplomas, concert programs, and various pictures.

The Origin of the Pieces

The final, Pink part, deals with Smetana´s final years, when, after the onset of his deafness, he lived and worked outside Prague.

The cover of a 1919 edition of The Bartered Bride

Here you can see maestro’s piano. You can also step up onto the conductor’s podium and see several music stands arranged around it like a small orchestra. Each stand represents a major work of the maestro, and holds documents concerning the origins of the pieces, exhibited with the scores. Posters from the performances are viewable under glass.

Then, with a heavy wooden conductor’s baton, you can point a laser light at any stand; the laser triggers a different recorded excerpt from Smetana’s most famous compositions at each one.

Museum director Olga Mojžíšová explains that this section is the most popular part of the museum, attracting mainly foreign visitors. “They like to point the baton, and usually you’ll find them also waving it in the air — they can’t resist ‘conducting,’” she tells Opus Osm.

The Building as an Exhibition

When you return to the ground floor, you’ll notice the museum shop, selling CDs, books, postcards, souvenirs, and many other items connected to Bedřich Smetana’s life and work.

The museum (with dark red roof) was originally part of the town water works

But don’t forget to turn around and look behind you as you exit the building. It’s a Neo-Renaissance structure built in 1883-84 from plans by Antonín Wiehl. The architecture is enhanced by rich sgraffito decoration designed by Mikoláš Aleš and František Ženíšek (important Czech painters of the 19th century), related to the battles of citizens of Prague with the Swedes on Charles Bridge in 1648.

The building originally housed the Old Town Water Works, and has been loaned to the Bedřich Smetana Society since 1935 by the City of Prague. The museum was first opened to the public on May 12, 1936.

In 1976 it became one of the departments of the newly created Czech Museum of Music and in this way became a part of Prague’s National Museum.

This museum also manages the Bedřich Smetana Memorial House in a former forester’s office in the town of Jabkenice, which was ceremonially reopened in 2003.

Find the Museum

From the main intersection at the Staroměstské metro, turn left ...

and follow the crowds towards the Charles Bridge.

Instead of turning right onto the bridge, go straight through the shopping arcade (behind the guy in gray) ...

and turn right. Go past the yellow building, all the way to the end.

The museum door is inside the dark archway on the right.

Quick Review: Bedřich Smetana
*Born on March 2, 1824 in Litomyšl
*Died on May 12, 1884 in Prague.
*11th child, but first son of 18 children
*Perhaps most widely known work is Má Vlast (My Country/Fatherland)
*Composed his only symphony for the Austrian Emperor’s wedding in 1854
*His Trio in G Minor for piano, violin and cello was inspired by the death of his eldest daughter
*3 symphonic poems: Richard III, Valdštýnův Tábor (Wallenstein’s Camp) and Hakon Jarl.
*2 famous operas: The Brandenburgers in Bohemia (Braniboři v Čechách), and The Bartered Bride (Prodaná Nevěsta)

The Bedřich Smetana Museum : Novotného Lávka 1, Praha 1
Hours: Wed-Mon 10-17. Tue Closed.
Museum Website: click on English, Long-term exhibitions

Photo Credits: The Bedřich Smetana Museum, water front, the museum; the National Museum, interior exhibition space; all other locations, Mary Matz

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