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Understanding the Music: Smetana - Three Dances from The Bartered Bride
Born in Litomysl, Czechoslovakia, in 1824, Bedrich Smetana is considered the founder
of Czech nationalist music. He was a gifted child prodigy; playing in a string
quartet at the age of five, and playing the piano for the Emperor of Austria a
year later. He moved to Prague in 1843 to continue his studies and made a meager
living teaching. In 1848, he started his own music school, which failed, as well
as an attempt to begin a concert career.
He finally found some measure of success when he took a job teaching piano in
Göteborg, Sweden, in 1856. He was in demand not only as a teacher, but as
a pianist and conductor, as well. Here he composed his first symphonic poems,
which later were well received.
In 1863 Smetana returned to Prague, where a strong nationalist movement was growing.
He was appointed conductor of the newly established Czech national opera house,
a post he held from 1866 to 1874, when deafness forced him to retire. In 1866
his first opera, The Brandenburgers in Bohemia, was premiered, followed
shortly by his second opera, The Bartered Bride. Both were a great success,
firmly establishing his reputation.
In spite of his deafness, he continued to compose, producing some of his greatest
works in the last years of his life. Prominent among these is the cycle of six
symphonic poems My Country (1874-79). Two popular works from this cycle,
the Moldau and From the Fields and Groves of Bohemia, are
often performed separately at orchestral concerts.