Bedřich Smetana, born March 2, 1824, in Leitomischl, Bohemia, Austrian Empire [now Litomyšl, Czech Republic], was composer of operas and symphonic poems, and founder of the Czech national school of music. He was the first truly important Bohemian nationalist composer.
Smetana studied music under his father, an amateur violinist. He early took up piano under a professional teacher and performed in public at the age of six. He continued his studies and later became music teacher to the family of Leopold, Count von Thun. Encouraged by Franz Liszt he opened a piano school in Prague in 1848 and the next year married the pianist Kateřina Kolářová. In 1856 he wrote his first symphonic poems and in the same year was appointed conductor of the philharmonic society of Gothenburg (Sweden), where he remained until 1861. He then returned to Prague, where he played the leading part in the establishment of the national opera house.
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Smetana’s first opera, Braniboři v Čechách (The Brandenburgers in Bohemia), was produced in Prague in 1866. This was followed by the production on May 30, 1866, of his second opera, Prodaná nevěsta (The Bartered Bride), which later established Smetana’s reputation as a distinctively Czech composer. His later operas were less successful. Dalibor, written under the influence of Wagner, was performed in 1868. Libuše, named after a legendary figure in the history of Prague and intended to celebrate the projected coronation (which never took place) of the emperor Francis Joseph as king of Bohemia, was not produced until 1881. In 1874 Smetana’s health began to deteriorate as a result of syphilis. Greatly concerned, he resigned his conductorship of the Prague Opera. He became totally deaf in late 1874, but between that year and 1879 he wrote the cycle of six symphonic poems bearing the collective title Má vlast (My Country), which includes Vltava (The Moldau), Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests), and Vyšehrad (the name of a fortress in Prague). From this period also came the string quartet to which he gave the title Z mého života (From My Life), considered among his finest works; Hubička (The Kiss), successfully produced in 1876; Čertova stěna (The Devil’s Wall), performed in 1882; and a number of piano solos, including many polkas. Smetana had been, from early in life, a virtuoso performer on the piano, and for many years most of his works were composed for it. Those compositions, augmented by the more mature piano pieces of his difficult last years, constitute an important body of piano literature. Following attacks of depression and symptoms of mental instability, Smetana entered an asylum at Prague and died there.
The Smetana Society, founded in Prague in 1931, maintains a museum containing the composer’s manuscripts and sponsors the publication and performance of his works. Smetana’s works, notably The Bartered Bride, My Country, and the piano trio, continue to be performed throughout the world.
The Bartered Wife
comic opera in three acts
Composer: Bedřich Smetana
Libretto: Karel Sabina
It all started with national pride.
When Bedrich Smetana met with Viennese conductor Johann von Herbeck, he heard a comment that immediately inspired him. The composer reportedly stated that the Czechs were incapable of creating their own music, which prompted the composer to set out on a mission to create a voice for his nation.
It would take the composer a few years to fulfill this mission, but when he did, the result was “The Bartered Bride,” which premiered on May 30, 1866, four years after he had composed the first notes of the piece. The opera would go on to be one of his most popular works and one of the Czech staples of the opera repertoire alongside the works of Janacek and Dvorak’s “Rusalka.”
Short Plot Summary
Marenka wants to marry Jenik, but her parents want her to marry Vasek, the son of Tobias Micha. They try to convince her to do so through the marriage broker Kecal, but fail. Kecal determines to speak with Jenik,
Vasek contemplates his future marriage. Marenka seeks him out disguised as another woman. She tells Vasek of how horrid Marenka is and even seduces Vasek, making him promise to give up Marenka.
Kecal and Jenik come to an agreement on Marenka’s fate. Jenik agrees to be bought off to give up Marenka as long as she only marries Micha’s son. Everyone is appalled by Jenik’s actions.
Vasek tells Marenka’s parents that he does not want to wed her any longer. However, when he realizes that she is the mysterious girl he met earlier, he agrees to marry her once again. Marenka laments Jenik’s betrayal. But when it is time to marry, it is revealed that Jenik is Misha’s older son and he has the right to Marenka’s hand. All rejoice.
Source: opera wire