Tuesday, June 28, 2011: Matter of Time

The sundial at Litomyšl Castle, where Smetana was invited by the countess

It Was Just a Matter of Time

Smetana at Five: A Star is Born

“My father dragged me by the ear and begged me on bended knee, and then I went to my first lesson.”

That’s how Bedřich Smetana remembered his first piano lesson, at age 5 in the year 1829. Most likely, more than one modern reader can relate to his feelings.

Actually, however, the little boy was more impressed with the violin he had watched his father play. So his father gave Bedřich a small, child-sized instrument to play. The boy would sneak off to a quiet room in the back of the family apartment to play the violin – but not the piano.

The 6-year-old Smetana’s first public performance came on October 4, 1830 at the local academy, in honor of Emperor Franz I’s name day. After the little Smetana’s piano solo, Count Waldstein’s secretary lifted little Bedřich up in the air so everyone could see him as they applauded. After that, the boy was often invited to perform in local residents’ homes, and he was invited to the Litomyšl castle by the countess.

Smetana's statue in the town where he was born

Today, although we might regard this as a form of Wicked Stage Mother child abuse, or an early bid for a talent search, having children perform in public just like this was all the rage at the time. After all, Mozart had made his mark first as a touring and performing child musical genius. So it was probably remarkable to the Czech townsfolk that one such talented boy could be found in their village of Litomyšl, far from the European capitals.

But then “tragedy” struck: It was time for Bedřich to go to school. His first year at the local Piarist boy’s school was satisfactory, but by the second year the subjects requiring drill and memorization – German, math, and religion – taught in a basement classroom – by Piarist brothers – proved too much. His school performance began to fail.

Fortunately, the family then moved to the town of Jindrichův Hradec and the student switched schools, eventually having the chance to concentrate on music and to learn to play more instruments. He composed his first works, turned more and more away from academics and towards music, and … the rest was just a matter of time. – oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top: Miroslav Setnička; bottom, Mary Matz

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