Slavic Saturday

Today’s snippet is from my home country.

It is a symphonic poem “Vltava” from a series of six such poems in a musical epos “Má Vlast” (My Country) written by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. Vltava is the most known from the six and in my opinion rightly so. It is an astounding piece of music, all the more impressive for the fact that Smetana composed it at a time when he was deaf. So he never actually got to hear it except in his head.

Truth be told I do not much care for most of Bedřich Smetana’s works, because he mostly wrote operas. And I was to one of his opera’s once, in school, and it was boring as hell. The singing, the implausible stories and lack of acting in my opinion destroy the beautiful music. But I did not care much about Má Vlast either at that time, partly because of natural tendency of children to oppose anything that is a part of the curriculum and partly probably because my brain was not mature enough to enjoy this kind of music. Maybe nowadays I could enjoy opera done properly?

This recording has the added dimension of being made in Prague Spring Festival in 1968, a year when Czechoslovak Socialist Republic had also a political Prague Spring,  when its people peacefully stood up to the USSR bully in wanting to determine their own fates and got beaten into submission in return.

And finally, before you can enjoy the music, author’s own words explaining what it means (a rare and very specific occurrence):

The composition describes the run of Vltava, beginning at its both springs, the warm and the cold Vltava, the confluence of both streamlets into one, then Vltava’s flow through woods and meadows, through landscapes where merry feasts are held; in Moon’s night glow veela dance; on the cliffs proud castles and their ruins stand; Vltava foams in St. Johns rapids; flows in a broad stream towards Prague, Vyšehrad shows up, and it ends its majestic flow n the distance in Labe.



  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    Vltava (known to us as The Moldau) was the first piece of music played and talked about in music class in my school (first form in England, around 1965/66, when I was 11). I was mightily impressed, even as a kid. Still am. While we’re in your neck of the woods, Dvořák did some decent stuff, too ;-)

  2. rq says

    I’ve never been a big fan of anyone’s operas, but this particular piece by Smetana has always been among my favourites. The way that first beautiful melodic line paints itself above the rippling accompaniment just opens my heart, and everything that follows builds and builds (though the melody does strike an awful similarity with ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ for about a single line, which was its individualizing mark for me).
    When I was a child, we didn’t get to listen to a lot of popular music -- at least, not contemporary music, roadtrips was 70s music like the Bee Gees and Grace Slick. Mostly, though, it was a lot of classical music on the radio, and once we were all reasonably educated in classical piano, it extended into a game of ‘recognize the composer’. Which… wasn’t all that exciting, and I wasn’t too good at it, but I did learn to appreciate classical music and to pick out the pieces that I truly did enjoy. I later played for the local youth orchestra, and that experience provided a whole new way to look at orchestral music, component parts, and the underlying efforts that go into its performance.
    Anyway, thank you for this selection. I enjoyed it very much.

  3. kestrel says

    Oh I love this song. It is so very beautiful and evocative… I used to have to work all night, and there was a classical music station in town. I called them up for a request… she thought I was going to ask for the Beatles I guess, and was floored when I asked for this piece of music. :-) She was very excited about getting a request in the middle of the night for the sort of thing she herself loved. I hope she remembers it as well as I do.

  4. Nightjar says

    Thank you, Charly. I did not know this piece, but I enjoyed it very much. It’s beautiful and immersive.

  5. Ice Swimmer says

    This piece was featured in my music book (4th to 6th grade, probably) at school and I think we listened to it, so Finland in the mid-1980s had some commonalities with the music curriculum of UK in mid-1960s.

    I don’t remember what I thought of it at the time, but I got into classical music as a teenager and liked Vltava(also called Moldau in Finnish, the German influence is showing once again). It is very beautiful music.

  6. dakotagreasemonkey says

    Thanks, Charly.
    That piece just reminded me of how much C loved classical music, and their instruments, and how she could find modern music done with classical instruments in the most astounding ways.
    The year we married, 1979, I would come home from work to hear her listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It took her years to get me to really listen to classical music, and appreciate it for the beauty of it.
    This recording was 10 years before we met, yet it brings her back to me like yesterday.
    Thanks for reminding me of her influence on our lives, in celebration of the power of sounds.

Leave a Reply