Bedřich (Friedrich) Smetana (1824 - 1884) MP

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Nicknames: "Father of Czech music."
Birthplace: Litomyšl, Pardubice, Czech Republic
Death: Died in Prague, Czech Republic
Cause of death: Senile dimentia, and/or syphilis
Occupation: Czech composer
Managed by: Yigal Burstein / יגאל בורשטיין
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About Bedřich (Friedrich) Smetana


Bedřich Smetana (2 March 1824 – 12 May 1884) 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 is thus widely regarded in his homeland as the father of Czech music. Internationally he is best known for his opera The Bartered Bride, for the symphonic cycle Má vlast ("My Fatherland") which portrays the history, legends and landscape of the composer's native land, and for his First String Quartet From My Life.

Smetana was naturally gifted as a pianist, and gave his first public performance at the age of six. After his conventional schooling, he studied music under Josef Proksch in Prague. His first nationalistic music was written during the 1848 Prague uprising, in which he briefly participated. After failing to establish his career in Prague, he left for Sweden, where he set up as a teacher and choirmaster in Gothenburg, and began to write large-scale orchestral works. During this period of his life Smetana was twice married; of six daughters, three died in infancy.

In the early 1860s, a more liberal political climate in Bohemia encouraged Smetana to return permanently to Prague. He threw himself into the musical life of the city, primarily as a champion of the new genre of Czech opera. In 1866 his first two operas, The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride, were premiered at Prague's new Provisional Theatre, the latter achieving great popularity. In that same year, Smetana became the theatre's principal conductor, but the years of his conductorship were marked by controversy. Factions within the city's musical establishment considered his identification with the progressive ideas of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner inimical to the development of a distinctively Czech opera style. This opposition interfered with his creative work, and may have hastened the health breakdown which precipitated his resignation from the theatre in 1874.

By the end of 1874, Smetana had become completely deaf but, freed from his theatre duties and the related controversies, he began a period of sustained composition that continued for almost the rest of his life. His contributions to Czech music were increasingly recognised and honoured, but a mental collapse early in 1884 led to his incarceration in an asylum, and his subsequent death. Smetana's reputation as the founding father of Czech music has endured in his native country, where advocates have raised his status above that of his contemporaries and successors. However, relatively few of Smetana's works are in the international repertory, and most foreign commentators tend to regard Antonín Dvořák as a more significant Czech composer.

Biography

Family background and childhood

Bedřich Smetana was born as Friedrich Smetana on 2 March 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, and his children were ignorant of it until much later in their lives. Large rectangular building of pale stonework, multiple rectangular windows and ornamental features at the roof level

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.

Apprentice musician

First steps

Smetana arrived in Prague in the autumn of 1839. Finding Jungmann's school uncongenial (he was mocked by his classmates for his country manners), Smetana 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.

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Bedřich Smetana's Timeline

1824
March 2, 1824
Litomyšl, Pardubice, Czech Republic
1849
August 27, 1849
Age 25
Prague, Prague, Czech Republic
1851
1851
Age 26
1852
1852
Age 27
1854
1854
Age 29
1855
1855
Age 30
1860
July 10, 1860
Age 36
1861
September 1861
Age 37
Sweden
1884
May 12, 1884
Age 60
Prague, Czech Republic
May 15, 1884
Age 60
Prague, Austro-Hungary empire