Pocket Smetana

The book gives readers a humanized glimpse into the composer's life and works

The Pocket Smetana

Bedřich Smetana, Na Cestě z Litomyšle/On the Way from Litomyšl
Olga Mojžíšová, Radmila Habánová, Hana Klimešová, Jan Pikna
2009, Smetanova Litomyšl, publisher
94 pgs, paperback, 50 kč
In Czech and excellent English

This is a handy little book to add to your library, whether or not your collection contains information on classical music and composers.

After all, these days if you want to know about a composer, a quick flick through the internet will tell you even more than you want to know (and depending on the website, some of what is hard to believe). So why invest in a book?

Because in just a small, nearly pocket-sized format, the most important information about the Czech composer’s life is presented by Smetana museum authors in a well-written, interesting yet non-academic style. It’s supplemented with photos of Smetana, his family, and the main places he lived.

The book opens with a biography, which includes not just the chronology of his life, but also interesting information about the main events and historical influences on the composer and his work. That can help you connect a period of history, musical style, or specific event with a particular composition, adding to its appreciation.

The next section is devoted to warm, human stories and anecdotes about Smetana when he lived in the town of Litomyšl, where he was born. It’s fun to imagine his mother dancing at a ball until almost midnight, and then giving birth to Bedřich at 10 o’clock the next morning, for example.

The final section of On the Way from Litomyšl contains photos and descriptions of historical buildings, monuments, and museum exhibits of home furnishings related to Smetana in his home town. If you like to study old news photographs, you’ll particularly enjoy this section.

A clean layout and readable style invite the reader in

If you want to find the list of all his compositions, flip to the back of the book. The authors show their experience with some readers’ frustration with information in the Czech language by translating into English not only the types of works, but of every composition as well. Bravo!

The dual languages are cleanly and cleverly presented, with the Czech text on the left side of each page. The designers clearly thought about the distraction of readers hunting for their appropriate language, though. They solved this annoying dilemma by placing the English on the right side of each page consistently, and including of a small colored bar above each column of English text.

Additionally, it seems that the complete Czech text is included in English, not just excerpts. Another bravo for the authors.

Bedřich Smetana, Na Cestě z Litomyšle/On the Way from Litomyšl can be purchased at the Smetana Litomyšl offices in that town, or ordered through their internet shop by clicking on eshop on their website, http://festival.smetanovalitomysl.cz. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: From the book, (c) 2009 Smetanova Litomyšl, ops

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