Bedřich Smetana

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Biography

Bedřich Smetana was a Czech composer who pioneered the development of a musical style which became closely identified with his country's aspirations to independent statehood. He has been regarded in his homeland as the father of Czech music. Internationally he is best known for his opera The Bartered Bride and for the symphonic cycle Má vlast ("My Homeland"), which portrays the history, legends and landscape of the composer's native land.

Early Life

Bedřich Smetana, first named Friedrich Smetana, was born on March 2, 1824, in Litomyšl, east of Prague near the traditional border between Bohemia and Moravia, then provinces of the Habsburg Empire. He was the third child, and first son, of František Smetana and his third wife Barbora Lynková. František had fathered eight children in two earlier marriages, five daughters surviving infancy; he and Barbora had ten more children, of whom seven reached adulthood. At this time, under Habsburg rule, German was the official language of Bohemia. František knew Czech but for business and social reasons, rarely used it; his children were ignorant of correct Czech until much later in their lives.

The Smetana family came from the Hradec Králové region of Bohemia. František had initially learned the trade of a brewer, and had acquired moderate wealth during the Napoleonic Wars by supplying clothing and provisions to the French Army. He subsequently managed several breweries before coming to Litomyšl in 1823 as brewer to Count Waldstein, whose Renaissance castle dominated the town.

The elder Smetana, although uneducated, had a natural gift for music and played in a string quartet. Bedřich was introduced to music by his father and in October 1830, at the age of six, gave his first public performance. At a concert held in Litomyšl's Philosophical Academy he played a piano arrangement of Auber's overture to La muette de Portici, to a rapturous reception. In 1831, the family moved to Jindřichův Hradec in the south of Bohemia—the region where, a generation later, Gustav Mahler grew up. Here, Smetana attended the local elementary school and later the gymnasium. He also studied violin and piano, discovering the works of Mozart and Beethoven, and began composing simple pieces, of which one, a dance (Kvapiček, or "Little Galop"), survives in sketch form.

In 1835, František retired to a farm in the south-eastern region of Bohemia. There being no suitable local school, Smetana was sent to the gymnasium at Jihlava, where he was homesick and unable to study. He then transferred to the Premonstratensian school at Německý Brod, where he was happier and made good progress. Among the friends he made here was the future Czech revolutionary poet Karel Havlíček, whose departure for Prague in 1838 may have influenced Smetana's own desire to experience life in the capital. The following year, with František's approval, he enrolled at Prague's Academic Grammar School under Josef Jungmann, a distinguished poet and linguist who was a leading figure in the movement for Czech national revival.

Apprentice Musician

Smetana arrived in Prague in the autumn of 1839. Finding Jungmann's school uncongenial (he was mocked by his classmates for his country manners), he soon began missing classes. He attended concerts, visited the opera, listened to military bands and joined an amateur string quartet for whom he composed simple pieces. After Liszt gave a series of piano recitals in the city, Smetana became convinced that he would find satisfaction only in a musical career. He confided to his journal that he wanted "to become a Mozart in composition and a Liszt in technique." However, the Prague idyll ended when František discovered his son's truancy, and removed him from the city. František at this time saw music as a diverting pastime, not as a career choice. Smetana was placed temporarily with his uncle in Nové Město, where he enjoyed a brief romance with his cousin Louisa. He commemorated their passion in Louisa's Polka, Smetana's earliest complete composition that has survived.

An older cousin, Josef Smetana, a teacher at the Premonstratensian School in Plzeň, then offered to supervise the boy's remaining schooling, and in the summer of 1840 Smetana departed for Plzeň. He remained there until he completed his schooling in 1843. His skills as a pianist were in great demand at the town's many soirées, and he enjoyed a hectic social life. This included a number of romances, the most important of which was with Kateřina Kolářová, whom he had known briefly in his early childhood. Smetana was entirely captivated with her, writing in his journal: "When I am not with her I am sitting on hot coals and have no peace." He composed several pieces for her, among which are two Quadrilles, a song duet, and an incomplete piano study for the left hand. He also composed his first orchestral piece, a B-flat minuet.

By the time Smetana completed his schooling, his father's fortunes had declined. Although František now agreed that his son should follow a musical career, he could not provide financial support. In August 1843, Smetana departed for Prague with twenty gulden and no immediate prospects. Lacking any formal musical training, he needed a teacher, and was introduced by Kateřina Kolářová's mother to Josef Proksch, head of the Prague Music Institute—where Kateřina was now studying. Proksch used the most modern teaching methods, drawing on Beethoven, Chopin, Berlioz and the Leipzig circle of Liszt. In January 1844, Proksch agreed to take Smetana as a pupil, and at the same time the young musician's financial difficulties were eased when he secured an appointment as music teacher to the family of a nobleman, Count Thun.

For the next three years, besides teaching piano to the Thun children, Smetana studied theory and composition under Proksch. The works he composed in these years include songs, dances, bagatelles, impromptus and the G minor Piano Sonata. In 1846, Smetana attended concerts given in Prague by Berlioz, and in all likelihood met the French composer at a reception arranged by Proksch. At the home of Count Thun he met Robert and Clara Schumann, and showed them his G minor sonata, but failed to win their approval for this work—they detected too much of Berlioz in it. Meanwhile, his friendship with Kateřina blossomed. In June 1847, on resigning his position in the Thun household, Smetana recommended her as his replacement. He then set out on a tour of Western Bohemia, hoping to establish a reputation as a concert pianist.

Early Career

Smetana's concert tour to Western Bohemia was poorly supported, so he abandoned it and returned to Prague, where he made a living from private pupils and occasional appearances as an accompanist in chamber concerts. He also began work on his first major orchestral work, the Overture in D major.

For a brief period in 1848, Smetana was a revolutionary. In the climate of political change and upheaval that swept through Europe in that year, a pro-democracy movement in Prague led by Smetana's old friend Karel Havlíček was urging an end to Habsburg absolutist rule and for more political autonomy. A Citizens' Army ("Svornost") was formed to defend the city against possible attack. Smetana wrote a series of patriotic works, including two marches dedicated respectively to the Czech National Guard and the Students' Legion of the University of Prague, and The Song of Freedom to words by Ján Kollár. In June 1848, as the Habsburg armies moved to suppress rebellious tendencies, Prague came under attack from the Austrian forces led by the Prince of Windisch-Grätz. As a member of Svornost, Smetana helped to man the barricades on the Charles Bridge. The uprising was quickly crushed, but Smetana avoided the imprisonment or exile received by leaders such as Havlíček. During his brief spell with Svornost, he met the writer and leading radical, Karel Sabina, who would later provide libretti for Smetana's first two operas.

Early in 1848, Smetana wrote to Franz Liszt, whom he had not yet met, asking him to accept the dedication of a new piano work, Six Characteristic Pieces, and recommend it to a publisher. He also requested a loan of 400 gulden, to enable him to open a music school. Liszt replied cordially, accepting the dedication and promising to help find a publisher, but he offered no financial assistance. This encouragement was the beginning of a friendship that was of great value to Smetana in his subsequent career. Despite Liszt's lack of financial support, Smetana was able to start a Piano Institute in late August 1848, with twelve students. After a period of struggle the Institute began to flourish and became briefly fashionable, particularly among supporters of Czech nationalism in whose eyes Smetana was developing a reputation. Proksch wrote of Smetana's support for his people's cause, and said that he "could well become the transformer of my ideas in the Czech language." In 1849, the Institute was relocated to the home of Kateřina's parents, and began to attract distinguished visitors; Liszt came regularly, and the former Austrian emperor Ferdinand, who had settled in Prague, attended the school's matinée concerts. Smetana's performances in these concerts became a recognized feature of Prague's musical life. In this time of relative financial stability Smetana married Kateřina, on August 27, 1849. Four daughters were born to the couple between 1851 and 1855.

Budding Composer

In 1850, notwithstanding his revolutionary sentiments, Smetana accepted the post of Court Pianist in Ferdinand's establishment in Prague Castle. He continued teaching in the Piano Institute, and devoted himself increasingly to composition. His works, mainly for the piano, included the three-part Wedding Scenes, some of the music of which was later used in The Bartered Bride. He also wrote numerous short experimental pieces collected under the name Album Leaves, and a series of polkas. During 1853–54 he worked on a major orchestral piece, the Triumphal Symphony, composed to commemorate the wedding of Emperor Franz Joseph. The symphony was rejected by the Imperial Court, possibly on the grounds that the brief musical references to the Austrian national anthem were not sufficiently prominent. Undeterred, Smetana hired an orchestra at his own expense to perform the symphony at the Konvikt Hall in Prague on February 26, 1855. The work was coolly received, and the concert was a financial failure.

In the years between 1854 and 1856 Smetana suffered a series of personal blows. In July 1854, his second daughter, Gabriela, died of tuberculosis. A year later his eldest daughter Bedřiška, who at the age of four was showing signs of musical precocity, died of scarlet fever. Smetana wrote his Piano Trio in G minor as a tribute to her memory; it was performed in Prague on December 3, 1855 and, according to the composer, was received "harshly" by the critics, although Liszt praised it. Smetana's sorrows continued; just after Bedřiška's death a fourth daughter, Kateřina, had been born but she, too, died in June 1856. By this time Smetana's wife Kateřina had also been diagnosed with tuberculosis.

In July 1856, Smetana received news of the death in exile of his revolutionary friend Karel Havlíček. The political climate in Prague was a further source of gloom; hopes of a more enlightened government and social reform following Franz Joseph's accession in 1848 had faded as Austrian absolutism reasserted itself under Baron Alexander von Bach. Despite the good name of the Piano Institute, Smetana's status as a concert pianist was generally considered to be below that of contemporaries such as Alexander Dreyschock. Critics acknowledged Smetana's "delicate, crystalline touch," closer in style to Chopin than Liszt, but believed that his physical frailty was a serious drawback to his concert-playing ambitions. His main performance success during this period was his playing of Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto at a concert celebrating the centenary of Mozart's birth, in January 1856. His disenchantment with Prague was growing and, perhaps influenced by Dreyschock's accounts of opportunities to be found in Sweden, Smetana decided to seek success there. On October 11, 1856, after writing to his parents that "Prague did not wish to acknowledge me, so I left it," he departed for Gothenburg.

Years of Travel

Smetana initially went to Gothenburg without Kateřina. Writing to Liszt, he said that the people there were musically unsophisticated, but he saw this as an opportunity "...for an impact I could never have achieved in Prague." Within a few weeks of his arrival, he had given his first recital, opened a music school that was rapidly overwhelmed by applications, and become conductor of the Gothenburg Society for Classical Choral Music. In a few months Smetana had achieved both professional and social recognition in the city, although he found little time for composition; two intended orchestral works, provisionally entitled Frithjof and The Viking's Voyage, were sketched but abandoned.

In summer 1857, Smetana came home to Prague and found Kateřina in failing health. In June, Smetana's father František died. That autumn Smetana returned to Gothenburg, with Kateřina and their surviving daughter Žofie, but before doing so he visited Liszt in Weimar. The occasion was the Karl August Goethe-Schiller Jubilee celebrations; Smetana attended performances of Liszt's Faust Symphony and the symphonic poem Die Ideale, which invigorated and inspired him. Liszt was Smetana's principal teacher throughout the latter's creative life, and at this time was crucially able to revive his spirits and rescue him from the relative artistic isolation of Gothenburg.

Back in Sweden, Smetana found among his new pupils a young housewife, Fröjda Benecke, who briefly became his muse and his mistress. In her honor Smetana transcribed two songs from Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin cycle, and transformed one of his own early piano pieces into a polka entitled Vision at the Ball. He also began composing on a more expansive scale. In 1858, he completed the symphonic poem Richard III, his first major orchestral composition since the Triumphal Symphony. He followed this with Wallenstein's Camp, inspired by Friedrich Schiller's Wallenstein drama trilogy, and began a third symphonic poem Hakon Jarl, based on the tragic drama by Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger. Smetana also wrote two large-scale piano works: Macbeth and the Witches, and an Étude in C in the style of Liszt.

Bereavement, Remarriage and Return to Prague

Kateřina's health gradually worsened and in the spring of 1859 failed completely. Homeward bound, she died at Dresden on April 19, 1859. Smetana wrote that she had died "gently, without our knowing anything until the quiet drew my attention to her." After placing Žofie with Kateřina's mother, Smetana spent time with Liszt in Weimar, where he was introduced to the music of the comic opera Der Barbier von Bagdad, by Liszt's pupil Peter Cornelius. This work would influence Smetana's own later career as an opera composer. Later that year he stayed with his younger brother Karel, and fell in love with Karel's sister-in-law Barbora (Bettina) Ferdinandiová, sixteen years his junior. He proposed marriage, and having secured her promise returned to Gothenburg for the 1859–60 winter. The marriage took place the following year, on July 10, 1860, after which Smetana and his new wife returned to Sweden for a final season. This culminated in April 1861 with a piano performance in Stockholm, attended by the Swedish royal family. The couple's first daughter, Zdeňka, was born in September 1861.

Meanwhile, the defeat of Franz Joseph's army at Solferino in 1859 had weakened the Habsburg Empire, and led to the fall from power of von Bach. This had gradually brought a more enlightened atmosphere to Prague, and by 1861, Smetana was seeing prospects of a better future for Czech nationalism and culture. Before deciding his own future, in September Smetana set out on a concert tour of the Netherlands and Germany. He was still hoping to secure a reputation as a pianist, but once again he experienced failure. Back in Prague, he conducted performances of Richard III and Wallenstein's Camp in the Žofín Island concert hall in January 1862, to a muted reception. Critics accused him of adhering too closely to the "New German" school represented primarily by Liszt; Smetana responded that "a prophet is without honor in his own land." In March 1862, he made a last brief visit to Gothenburg, but the city no longer held his interest; it appeared to him a provincial backwater and, whatever the difficulties, he now determined to seek his musical future in Prague: "My home has rooted itself into my heart so much that only there do I find real contentment. It is to this that I will sacrifice myself."

National Prominence

In 1861, it was announced that a Provisional Theater would be built in Prague, as a home for Czech opera. Smetana saw this as an opportunity to write and stage opera that would reflect Czech national character, similar to the portrayals of Russian life in Mikhail Glinka's operas. He hoped that he might be considered for the theater's conductorship, but the post went to Jan Nepomuk Maýr, apparently because the conservative faction in charge of the project considered Smetana a "dangerous modernist," in thrall to avant garde composers such as Liszt and Wagner. Smetana then turned his attention to an opera competition, organized by Count Jan von Harrach, which offered prizes of 600 gulden each for the best comic and historical operas based on Czech culture. With no useful model on which to base his work—Czech opera as a genre scarcely existed—Smetana had to create his own style. He engaged Karel Sabina, his comrade from the 1848 barricades, as his librettist, and received Sabina's text in February 1862, a story of the 13th century invasion of Bohemia by Otto of Brandenburg. In April 1863, he submitted the score, under the title of The Brandenburgers in Bohemia.

At this stage in his career, Smetana's command of the Czech language was poor. His generation of Czechs was educated in German, and he had difficulty expressing himself in what was supposedly his native tongue. To overcome these linguistic deficiencies he studied Czech grammar, and made a point of writing and speaking in Czech every day. He had become Chorus Master of the nationalistic Hlahol Choral Society soon after his return from Sweden, and as his fluency in the Czech language developed, he composed patriotic choruses for the Society; The Three Riders and The Renegade were performed at concerts in early 1863. In March of that year Smetana was elected president of the music section of Umělecká Beseda, a society for Czech artists. By 1864, he was proficient enough in the Czech language to be appointed as music critic to the main Czech language newspaper Národní listy. Meanwhile, Bettina had given birth to another daughter, Božena.

On April 23, 1864, Smetana conducted Berlioz's choral symphony Roméo et Juliette at a concert celebrating the Shakespeare tercentenary, adding to the program his own March for the Shakespearean Festival. That year, Smetana's bid to become Director of the Prague Conservatory failed. He had set high hopes on this appointment: "My friends are trying to persuade me that this post might have been especially created for me," he wrote to a Swedish friend. Again his hopes were thwarted by his association with the perceived radical Liszt, and the appointing committee chose the conservative patriot Josef Krejčí for the post.

Almost three years passed before Smetana was declared the winner of Harrach's opera competition. Before then, on January 5, 1866, The Brandenburgers had been performed to an enthusiastic reception at the Provisional Theater—over strong opposition from Maýr, who had refused to rehearse or conduct the piece. The idiom was too advanced for Maýr's liking, and the opera was eventually staged under the composer's own direction. "I was called on stage nine times," Smetana wrote, recording that the house was sold out and that the critics were full of praise. 

Opera Maestro

In July 1863, Sabina had delivered the libretto for a second opera, a light comedy entitled The Bartered Bride, which Smetana composed during the next three years. Because of the success of The Brandenburgers, the management of the Provisional Theater readily agreed to stage the new opera, which was premiered on May 30, 1866 in its original two-act version with spoken dialog. The opera went through several revisions and restructures before reaching the definitive three-act form that in due course established Smetana's international reputation. The opera's first performance was a failure; it was held on one of the hottest evenings of the year, on the eve of the Austro-Prussian War, with Bohemia under imminent threat of invasion by Prussian troops. Unsurprisingly the occasion was poorly attended, and receipts failed to cover costs. When presented at the Provisional Theater in its final form, in September 1870, it was a tremendous public success.

Back in 1866, as the composer of The Brandenburgers with its overtones of German military aggression, Smetana thought he might be targeted by the invading Prussians, so he absented himself from Prague until hostilities ceased. He returned in September, and almost immediately achieved a long-standing ambition—appointment as principal conductor of the Provisional Theater, at an annual salary of 1,200 gulden. In the absence of a body of suitable Czech opera, Smetana in his first season presented standard works by Weber, Mozart, Donizetti, Rossini and Glinka, with a revival of his own Bartered Bride. The quality of Smetana's production of Glinka's A Life for the Tsar angered Glinka's champion Mily Balakirev, who expressed himself forcefully. This caused prolonged hostility between the two men. On May 16, 1868 Smetana, representing Czech musicians, helped to lay the foundation stone for the future National Theater; he had written a Festive Overture for the occasion. That same evening Smetana's third opera, Dalibor, was premièred at Prague's New Town Theater. Although its initial reception was warm its reviews were poor, and Smetana resigned himself to its failure.

Opposition

Early in his Provisional Theater conductorship Smetana had made a powerful enemy in František Pivoda, the Director of the Prague School of Singing. Formerly a supporter of Smetana's, Pivoda was aggrieved when the conductor recruited singing talent from abroad rather than from Pivoda's school. In an increasingly bitter public correspondence, Pivoda claimed that Smetana was using his position to further his own career, at the expense of other composers.

Pivoda then took issue with Dalibor, calling it an example of extreme "Wagnerism" and thus, unsuited as a model for Czech national opera. "Wagnerism" meant the adoption of Wagner's theories of a continuous role for the orchestra and the building of an integrated musical drama, rather than a stringing together of lyrical numbers. The Provisional Theater's chairman, František Rieger, had first accused Smetana of Wagnerist tendencies after the first performance of The Brandenburgers, and the issue eventually divided Prague's musical society. The music critic Otakar Hostinský believed that Wagner's theories should be the basis of the national opera, and argued that Dalibor was the beginning of the "correct" direction. The opposite camp, led by Pivoda, supported the principles of Italian opera, in which the voice rather than the orchestra was the predominant dramatic device.

Even within the theater itself there was division. Rieger led a campaign to eject Smetana from the conductorship and reappoint Maýr, and in December 1872, a petition signed by 86 subscribers to the theater called for Smetana's resignation. Strong support from vice-chairman Antonín Čísek, and an ultimatum from prominent musicians among whom was Antonín Dvořák, ensured Smetana's survival. In January 1873, he was reappointed, with a bigger salary and increased responsibility as Artistic Director.

Smetana gradually brought more operas by emergent Czech composers to the theater, but little of his own work. By 1872, he had completed his monumental fourth opera, Libuše, his most ambitious work to date, but was withholding its premiere for the future opening of the forthcoming National Theater. The machinations of Pivoda and his supporters distracted Smetana from composition, and he had further vexation when The Bartered Bride was produced in St. Petersburg, in January 1871. Although the audience was enthusiastic, press reports were hostile, one describing the work as "no better than that of a gifted fourteen-year-old boy." Smetana was deeply offended, and blamed his old adversary, Balakirev, for inciting negative feelings against the opera.

Final Decade

In the respite following his reappointment, Smetana concentrated on his fifth opera, The Two Widows, composed between June 1873 and January 1874. After its first performance at the Provisional Theater on March 27, 1874, Smetana's supporters presented him with a decorative baton. But his opponents continued to attack him, comparing his conductorship unfavorably with the Maýr regime and claiming that under Smetana "Czech opera sickens to death at least once annually." By the summer Smetana was ill; a throat infection was followed by a rash and an apparent blockage to the ears. By mid-August, unable to work, he transferred his duties to his deputy, Adolf Čech. A press announcement stated that Smetana had "become ill as a result of nervous strain caused by certain people recently."

In September, Smetana told the theater he would resign his appointment unless his health improved. He had become totally deaf in his right ear, and in October lost all hearing in his left ear also. After his subsequent resignation the theater offered him an annual pension of 1,200 gulden for the continued right to perform his operas, an arrangement Smetana reluctantly accepted. Money raised in Prague by former students, and by former lover Fröjda Benecke in Gothenburg, amounted to 1,244 gulden. This allowed Smetana to seek medical treatment abroad, but to no avail. In January 1875, Smetana wrote in his journal: "If my disease is incurable, then I should prefer to be liberated from this life." His spirits were further lowered at this time by a deterioration in his relationship with Bettina, mainly over money matters. "I cannot live under the same roof as a person who hates and persecutes me," Smetana informed her. Although divorce was considered, the couple stayed unhappily together.

In worsening health, Smetana continued to compose. In June 1876 he, Bettina, and their two daughters left Prague for Jabkenice, the home of his eldest daughter Žofie where, in tranquil surroundings, Smetana was able to work undisturbed. Before leaving Prague he had begun a cycle of six symphonic poems, called Má vlast ("My Fatherland"), and had completed the first two, Vyšehrad and Vltava, which had both been performed in Prague during 1875. In Jabkenice, Smetana composed four more movements, the complete cycle being first performed on November 5, 1882, under the baton of Adolf Čech. Other major works composed in these years were the E minor String Quartet, From My Life, a series of Czech dances for piano, several choral pieces and three more operas: The Kiss, The Secret and The Devil's Wall, all of which received their first performances between 1876 and 1882.

The long-delayed premiere of Smetana's opera Libuše finally arrived when the National Theater opened on June 11, 1881. He had not initially been given tickets, but at the last minute was asked into the theater director's box. The audience received the work enthusiastically, and Smetana was called to the stage repeatedly. Shortly after this event the new theater was destroyed by fire; despite his infirmities, Smetana helped to raise funds for the rebuilding. The restored theater reopened on November 18, 1883, again with Libuše.

These years saw Smetana's growing recognition as the principal exponent of Czech national music. This status was celebrated by several events during Smetana's final years. On January 4, 1880, a special concert in Prague marked the 50th anniversary of his first public performance; Smetana attended, and played his Piano Trio in G minor from 1855. In May 1882, The Bartered Bride was given its 100th performance, an unprecedented event in the history of Czech opera. It was so popular that a repeat "100th performance" was staged. A gala concert and banquet were arranged to honor Smetana's 60th birthday in March 1884, but he was too ill to attend.

Illness and Death

In 1879, Smetana had written to a friend, the Czech poet Jan Neruda, revealing fears of the onset of madness. By the winter of 1882–83 he was experiencing depression, insomnia, and hallucinations, together with giddiness, cramps and a temporary loss of speech. In 1883, he began writing a new symphonic suite, Prague Carnival, but could get no further than an Introduction and a Polonaise. He started a new opera, Viola, based on the character in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, but wrote only fragments as his mental state gradually deteriorated. In October 1883, his behavior at a private reception in Prague disturbed his friends; by the middle of February 1884 he had ceased to be coherent, and was periodically violent. On April 23, his family, unable to nurse him any longer, removed him to the Kateřinky Lunatic Asylum in Prague, where he died on May 12, 1884.

The hospital registered the cause of death as senile dementia. However, Smetana's family believed that his physical and mental decline was due to syphilis. An analysis of the autopsy report, published by the German neurologist Dr Ernst Levin in 1972, came to the same conclusion. Tests carried out by Prof. Emanuel Vlček in the late 20th century on samples of muscular tissue from Smetana's exhumed body provided further evidence of the disease. However, this research has been challenged by Czech physician Dr Jiří Ramba, who has argued that Vlček's tests do not provide a basis for a reliable conclusion, citing the age and state of the tissues and highlighting reported symptoms of Smetana's that were incompatible with syphilis.

Smetana's funeral took place on May 15, at the Týn Church in Prague's Old Town. The subsequent procession to the Vyšehrad Cemetery was led by members of the Hlahol, bearing torches, and was followed by a large crowd. The grave later became a place of pilgrimage for musical visitors to Prague. On the funeral evening, a scheduled performance of The Bartered Bride at the National Theater was allowed to proceed, the stage draped with black cloth as a mark of respect.

Smetana was survived by Bettina, their daughters Zdeňka and Božena, and by Žofie. None of them played any significant role in Smetana's musical life. Bettina lived until 1908; Žofie, who had married Josef Schwarz in 1874, predeceased her stepmother, dying in 1902. The younger daughters eventually married, living out their lives away from the public eye. A permanent memorial to Smetana's life and work is the Bedřich Smetana Museum in Prague, founded in 1926 within the Charles University's Institute for Musicology. In 1936, the museum moved to the former Waterworks building on the banks of the Vltava, and since 1976 has been part of the Czech Museum of Music.

Character and Reputation

Smetana's biographers describe him as physically frail and unimpressive in appearance yet, at least in his youth, he had a joie-de-vivre that women evidently found attractive. He was also excitable, passionate and strong-willed, determined to make his career in music whatever the hardships, over the wishes of his father who wanted him to become a brewer or a civil servant. Throughout his career he stood his ground; when under the severest of criticism for the "Wagnerism" in Dalibor he responded by writing Libuše, even more firmly based on the scale and concept of Wagnerian music drama. His personal life became stressful; his marriage to Bettina was loveless, and effectively broke down altogether in the years of illness and relative poverty towards the end of his life. Little of his relationships with his children is on record, although on the day that he was transferred to the asylum, Žofie was "crying as though her heart would break."

There is broad agreement among most commentators that Smetana created a canon of Czech opera where none had previously existed, and that he developed a style of music in all his compositions that equated with the emergent Czech national spirit. A modified view is presented by the music writer Michael Steen, who questions whether "nationalistic music" can in fact exist: "We should recognize that, whereas music is infinitely expressive, on its own it is not good at describing concrete, earthly objects or concepts." He concludes that much is dependent upon what listeners are conditioned to hear.

According to the musicologist John Tyrrell, Smetana's close identification with Czech nationalism and the tragic circumstances of his last years, have affected the objectivity of assessments of his work, particularly in his native land. Tyrrell argues that the almost iconic status awarded to Smetana in his homeland "monumentalized him into a figure where any criticism of his life or work was discouraged" by the Czech authorities, even as late as the last part of the 20th century. As a result, Tyrrell claims, a view of Czech music has been propagated that downplays the contributions of contemporaries and successors such as Dvořák, Janáček, Josef Suk and other, lesser known, composers. This is at odds with perceptions in the outside world, where Dvořák is far more frequently played and much better known. Harold Schonberg observes that "Smetana was the one who founded Czech music, but Antonín Dvořák ... was the one who popularized it." Smetana has been regarded in his homeland as the father of Czech music.

Recent Additions

Smetana - Ma Vlast - Mvt 1b - Vyšehrad - My Fatherland - Second Queensland Youth Orchestra QYO2

Smetana - Ma Vlast - Mvt 1b - Vyšehrad - My Fatherland - Second Queensland Youth Orchestra QYO2

Smetana

Smetana "From My Homeland" (mvt. 2); Gerald Elias

Bedřich Smetana - Šárka (My Country, Prague Spring 2011)

Bedřich Smetana - Šárka (My Country, Prague Spring 2011)

Smetana - My Vlast - Poem IV - Z ceskych luhu a haju (From Bohemia's Fields and Woods)

Smetana - My Vlast - Poem IV - Z ceskych luhu a haju (From Bohemia's Fields and Woods)

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