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Symphonic Poem, "Má Vlast"

Bedrich Smetana
(1824-84)



Under the general title of "Má Vlast" ("My Fatherland") Smetana, the Bohemian composer, left a cycle of six symphonic poems, dedicated to the city of Prague, entitled "Vysehrad," "Vltáva," "Sárka," "Zceskjàh lukûv a hájûr" ("From Bohemia’s Fields and Groves"), "Tábor" ("The Hussite Fortress"), and "Blanik," the mountain in which the Hussite warriors sleep, awaiting the resurrection. Of these six the "Vysehrad," "Vltáva," and "Sárka" are the three usually performed in the concert-room.

The "Vysehrad" is the first in the cycle, its program in brief being "Though engendered in the poet’s mind on beholding the famous fortress and reflecting upon the glorious life there in its palmy days, its subsequent important struggles and final ruin." The movement is free in its form. The introduction begins with a stirring national subject in two harps. After a few measures the remaining instruments take the melody one after the other, the harps still combining, interwoven with trumpet calls gradually increasing in power and leading to a climax in full orchestra. As it dies away, the strings take up an Allegro subject, which is a modification of the original theme in fugal form, bringing this section to a brilliant close. A melodious second subject follows, which is skillfully elaborated. In the conclusion the opening subject returns in modified form."





The second poem, "Vltáva," better known as "The Moldau," is the most beautiful of the series for its melodic charm. It describes the River Moldau, the scenes through which it flows, natural beauties, historic spots, the revels of the wood and water nymphs, and the Rapids of Saint John. It begins with a delicate rippling passage in flutes, with pizzicato accompaniment in the violin and harp, picturing most vividly the movement of the water. It is next taken in the strings over a beautiful melody in first violins, oboe, and bassoon, horns and harp joining in the harmony. Hunting calls are now heard in the horns over the river motive, and as they die away a lively wedding dance is worked up to a climax of gaiety. As it in turn subsides, the woodwinds announce sustained harmonies, and the flute with strings, horn, and clarinet accompaniment give out the nymphs’ dance, which is followed by an impressive passage in horns, trombones, and tuba. The ripple of the river is heard again, and gradually leads up to the description of the rapids, reaching powerful fortissimo. Then with extended decrescendo the movement, which is one of expressive beauty throughout, comes to a close.

"Sárka," the third of the poems, is based upon the story of the Bohemian Amazon. Disappointed in love, she swears vengeance upon the whole race of men. The knight Ctirad takes the field against her, and as his warriors are advancing finds Sárka bound to a tree. She cunningly pretends to have been maltreated by her sisters. Overcome by her beauty and desiring to possess her, he set her free. During a carousal of his soldiers, Sárka gives a horn signal, to which her companions in the forest respond. Falling upon the soldiers, sleeping after their revels, they slay them all. The poem opens with a theme for violins describing Sárka’s rage against men. A second subject of a light, simple character describes the march of Ctirad’s warriors through the forest. This is interrupted by a sudden outcry twice heard. A duet for cello and clarinet follows, giving place evidently to a love passage, which is freely developed and followed by a fanfare, introducing another theme of a jubilant character. As it dies, away, a lovely melody is sung by the clarinets, describing Sárka’s summons to her sisters. The concluding part of the movement is marked Frenetico, and is indeed a frenzy of instrumentation, portraying Sárka’s revenge.





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