"I am not ashamed to reply to you in my mother tongue" - The Czech Composer Bedřich Smetana

2 March 1824, the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana was born in Litomyšl, 85 miles east of Prague.

“I am not ashamed to reply to you in my mother tongue, however imperfectly, and am glad to be able to show that my fatherland means more to me than anything else” (Smetana’s second letter written in Czech language, 11 March, 1860)

František Dvořák’s (1862-1927) imagination of "Bedřich Smetana mezi svými přáteli roku 1865“ (Bedrich Smetana among his friends in 1865) from 1923, when the composer already had achieved an iconic status.

When Europe was turned upside down during the revolutions and uprisings of 1848 and ’49, most individual lives from Spain to Russia were touched one way or the other and it wasn’t any different with Bedřich Smetana. Before he became the Father of Czech Music, the composer played a minor role during Prague’s insurrection against the Austrians and finally left his homeland for Sweden. Because he was chafing against the absolutist rule of House Habsburg or due to his lack of public acknowledgement as a musician is not quite clear, probably both disturbing influences played a major role in his decision and when he returned five years later, he still spoke hardly any Czech but German like most educated Bohemians, managed his artistic breakthrough with his first opera, “Braniboři v Čechách”, the “Brandenburgers in Bohemia” and fate had stroke him quite a few nasty blows and wouldn’t cease to do that until the end of his life.

Smetana in 1882

His beloved first wife and three of his four daughters died on him on the family’s journey back home to Prague of tuberculosis, his second marriage was rather unhappy, critics accused him to be far too Germanic and Wagnerian in his compositions, not quite a promotive tag for a national composer of an occupied country and finally, beyond of his unstable health, he almost completely lost his hearing at the age of 50. He managed, however, to complete his major opus, the cycle of six symphonic poems, called Má vlast ("My Fatherland") with its “Vltava” (or "The Moldau" in German) part being his best-known piece internationally, along with his opera “The Bartered Bride”. And even though he was, after his own account, far too occupied with Smetanism than to pay any heed to Wagnerianisms, but the outside influence remained strong while the more nationally inclined musical enthusiasts claimed that Czech music was supposed to be based on Czech folk songs and not on uptight German apocalyptic visions. The situation changed in his last years and the century after his death at the age of 60 in 1884 – when Smetana was monumentalised into the founder and paragon of national music.

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