Monday, May 16,2011:The Score
These ebullient displays of the Czech Republic’s flag show once again that national pride tends to bubble up quickly and fervently in Bohemia, even two decades after its Velvet Revolution for political independence.
Bedřich Smetana, watching from a totally different era (1824-1884), would be proud.
Proud, even though the flag-waving hoopla last week was not for performance of his nation-celebrating symphonic poem Má Vlast, which opened the Prague Spring music festival on Thursday. Nor was it to mark the 200th anniversary of The Prague Conservatory, whose symphony orchestra played it.
Prague Conservatory students watch their classmates in the school’s symphony orchestra perform Má Vlast at the opening of the Prague Spring International Music Festival. The students watched the real-time performance from The Municipal House on large-screen video in the Conservatory’s concert hall.
No, the flag popped up seemingly everywhere because the Czech hockey team had advanced to the semi-final round in the World Hockey Championships. Unlike Smetana, though, the hockey players lost, to Sweden, 2-5.
However, just like the Czech hockey team, Smetana in his field is credited with establishing national and international records.
* The conductor for the Prague Spring performances of Má Vlast, Jiří Bělohlavek, calculates he has conducted the full piece 106 times in his career.
* Although The Prague Conservatory Symphony Orchestra’s performance was for a larger orchestra (5 harps, 10 double basses, 18 first violins, etc.) the smallest version he’s directed was the Prague Philharmonia’s miniature for chamber orchestra.
* The conductor says a memorable performance he conducted was actually by a German orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic. “They played naturally our national idioms and were very sympathetic and appreciative” of the music, he tells Opus Osm.
* In 1874, the year Smetana began writing the six pieces comprising Má Vlast, he became completely deaf. He finished the work in 1879, and its first performance occurred in 1882, two years before his death.
His Má Vlast helped him earn the title ‘the founder of Czech music’ and credit for setting the high standard for the symphonic poem form. And he, too, even had some experience with Sweden – happily, however: there he found a better playing field – more money, more recognition – when he lived in Gothenburg for five years starting in 1856.
By 1861 the political climate back in Bohemia had opened up a bit more, so Smetana returned to Prague, working as a music teacher, pianist, conductor, and concert promoter. He even was a music critic for the Národní Listy daily newspaper.
Despite bitter friction between German-speakers and Czechs who wanted to revive the Czech language to its rightful place, and despite Smetana’s many critics, he managed to add still other achievements to his hall of fame. His appointment as conductor of the Provisional Theatre Opera, the first permanent, professional theatre performing in the Czech language; and merging Czech and German orchestras for a subscription series are among his many victories. – oo
– Mary Matz
Photo Credits: Mary Matz