This Tuesday it's 120 years since Bedrich Smetana's cycle of symphonic poems, 'Ma vlast'- or 'My Country'- was premiered in Prague. It was a significant moment in the history of Czech music and My Country has been performed regularly ever since in concert halls the world over. Alena Skodova has more:
My Country was a huge success from the moment it was premiered, and in 120 years has never gone out of fashion. Stepan Koutnik plays the clarinet in the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra:
"When we play My Country abroad, it usually attracts people who already know the piece, and it often gets standing ovations. Smetana must have been an exceptional person with a remarkable degree of imagination, because he was able to transcribe chapters from Czech history to music. And I think that even those who don't know Czech history can hear it in this music."
"My Country" consists of six parts. In the spirit of the national revival they explore Czech legend and history and try to capture the essence of the Czech nation. The cycle does not all date from the same time - when Smetana composed the first two symphonic poems, Vysehrad and Vltava, he did not think of them as parts of a whole cycle. But as he went on with Sarka, inspired by the Czech legend of the Battle of the Maidens, followed by 'From Czech forests and meadows', depicting Czech rural life, it became clear that a symphonic masterpiece was being born. The last two poems are Tabor and Blanik. Each single poem met with tremendous success among Smetana lovers during his time. It was the habit back then that a successful piece was always encored in its full length, which was the case at each concert where the various parts of My Country were performed.
The whole cycle was premiered on November 5th, 1882 at the Zofin Island in Prague, under the baton of Adolf Cech. Many feared that playing all the six parts together might weaken the power of each single piece, but they were proven very wrong. When the concert finished, people were shouting 'bravo', clasping hands and waving their hats and scarves.
Ever since Smetana's My Country has almost been a symbol of the Czech nation, immensely popular among Czech music lovers. Each year, it is played on May 12th, at the opening concert of the Prague Spring international music festival, and it is familiar around the world even to people who know little about classical music and still less about this small country in the centre of Europe.
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