The familiar sound of harp opens the cycle of six symphonic poems entitled Ma Vlast or My Country, written by one of the most famous Czech composers Bedrich Smetana. This Monday marks exactly 125 years since its remarkably successful premiere at Prague's Zofin Palace in 1882.
Although conceived as individual works, the poems are usually presented as a single work in six movements. Each piece was inspired by some aspect of Czech history, legends and landscape. The cycle begins at Vysehrad, the seat of the earliest Czech kings. But the best known of Ma Vlast is definitely Vltava.
The piece describes the course of the Vltava River, as it starts from two small springs and runs through the landscape in one single current, swirls into the St. John's Rapids, widens and flows towards Prague, past Vysehrad and finally vanishes into the distance ending at the Labe, or Elbe.
Vltava contains Smetana's most famous tune, which is familiar to literally every Czech child. It is believed to have been adapted from a children's song called Kocka leze dirou and conveyed into a minor key. But according to Smetana it was inspired by a Swedish folk song. You may have also heard the motif in the Israeli national anthem.
When Smetana composed Ma Vlast, he was suffering from severe depression. But what is most interesting is that he wrote almost all of it in silence as he started to grow deaf shortly before completing the first poem. His state, however, doesn't seem to have affected his music. It is poetic, fresh and melodious and continues to capture its listeners as much as it did 125 ago.
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