The most complete collection available of music by the father of Czech nationalism in music.
Má Vlast, The Bartered Bride and the String Quartet ‘From My Life’: all written within a decade of each other, all so fundamental in their different genres in forming a Czech national identity in music that it can seem incredible they were the work of a single composer.
Yet this was the task that Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) had set himself from early on – not only to become ‘a Liszt in technique and a Mozart in composition’ but the voice of a new nation. Given the obstacles he faced, his success in realising this ambition is all the more impressive. To begin with he had to overcome his father’s antipathy to his chosen destiny as a composer; then the vicissitudes of poverty, and then, at the height of his powers and renown, a succession of personal tragedies which left him deaf and mentally unstable; he died in reduced circumstances, living with his daughter, and it took the following generation of Czech composers to rehabilitate the hero who had lived in their midst.
To begin with, Smetana won a reputation as the life and soul of the party thanks not least to the kind of piano miniatures which were published as his earliest surviving works. He sent one set to Liszt, who replied with characteristic generosity, and the elder composer’s example, encouragement and friendship all became crucial to Smetana as he spread his wings. Large-scale orchestral works soon followed in his late 20s, such as the powerful if rambling Festive Symphony – here performed complete, a rarity in itself – and the G minor Piano Trio, written as an outpouring of grief at the death of his daughter Bedřiška, and a powerful foreshadowing of later masterpieces.
Finding recognition in his homeland hard to come by, he moved to Sweden, and it was only on his permanent return home in the early 1860s that The Bartered Bride and then Má Vlast took shape, each through a complex genesis outlined by a new booklet essay and appreciation of the composer by Peter Quantrill. In their final forms they were acclaimed as the work of someone worthy to be hailed as a ‘Czech Beethoven’, for their heroic style, their mastery of old forms with a distinctively Czech twist, and their celebration of the nation’s history and sense of itself.
The performances here all won enthusiastic reviews on their original release; gathered together here, they make an ideal introduction to Smetana’s world.
‘One of the most dramatic sets of the tone-poems that I have ever encountered.’ Rob Cowan, Gramophone, September 2019
‘Wonderful conducting and playing of both familiar and unfamiliar Smetana.’ Fanfare, November 2008 (Orchestral works)
‘The Stamitz Quartet are one of the most impressive [Czech quartets]… Their performance of the E minor is on the grandest scale.’ Gramophone, March 2005
- Bedřich Smetana was a Czech composer born in Bohemia and later became a national symbol of Czech culture. Smetana's musical style was influenced by Czech folk music, classical traditions and romanticism. He is best known for his cycle of six symphonic poems called "Má Vlast" (My Homeland), which is considered to be the cornerstone of Czech classical music. This cycle of works is based on Czech history and legends and reflects Smetana's deep patriotism and love for his country. "The Moldau", the second piece from "Má Vlast", is one of his most famous works and is one of the most frequently performed pieces of classical music in the world. This composition portrays the flow of the Moldau River and is a masterpiece of tone painting.
- Smetana was also a prolific composer of operas, including "The Bartered Bride", which is considered to be one of the greatest national operas in the world. This work, which premiered in 1866, blends elements of Czech folk music with traditional operatic forms.
- This extensive collection contains the complete orchestral works, the two passionate and highly personal string quartets, the dramatic Piano Trio, a generous selection of piano music, including the complete Czech Dances, and the opera The Bartered Bride, sung in German.
- Performers include the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Theodore Kuchar (Classics Today writes: “Performance: 9. Theodore Kuchar and his forces tackle Ma Vlast with plenty of enthusiasm and vigor; indeed, from Sarka onward this is one of the best versions available.”), the Czech Stamic Quartet, Czech pianist Antonín Kubálek, Roberto Plano, and the Staatskapelle Dresden/Otmar Suitner.
- A substantial and valuable Collection by a highly influential Czech composer who made significant contributions to the classical music repertoire. Smetana is remembered as a passionate patriot who captured the spirit of his country in his compositions and helped to establish a unique national identity through his music.