I’d like to spend
our last day looking at music and ethnicity focusing on one of my favorite
nationalistic pieces, Bedrich Smetana’s “Vltava” or more commonly known as “The
Moldau” from Má vlast, meaning “My
One of the first
major nationalist composers in Bohemia, Smetana gave his people a musical
identity during a time when the Czech population desperately needed some sort
of national character to hold on to. Their country had been under Habsburg rule
for quite some time and as a result, their Czech-connection somewhat lost.
Their language, for instance, fought for survival against the dominant German
Many of Smetana’s
works identified with his own pride in his homeland, thus creating a similar
pride amongst his fellow Bohemians. His eight operas and many of his symphonic
poems have national subjects inspired by his country’s legends, history, and
landscapes. Má vlast is a cycle of
six symphonic poems, one of which is “The Moldau.” The Moldau is a river in the
Bohemian region. During his composition, Smetana’s goal is to leave an
impression on the listener of how the river flows across the Bohemian
landscape. You can listen to this lovely work here. Do you hear the forests
depicted by hunting music or the village wedding conveyed by a polka?
In my last post
we talked about the lack of national identity in 19th-century
Finland, resulting in the population’s pride in Sibelius’ nationalistic Finlandia. A similar pride developed in
Spain during the 20th century following the premiere of Joaquín
Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. The
work was first performed in 1940, not long after the end of the Spanish Civil
War. Inspired by Spanish classical and folk music, art, and literature, the
piece is exactly what Spain needed to hold onto a sense of national pride.
was blind from the age of three yet showed musical talent early on, studying
with the famous composer Paul Dukas. Rodrigo had a strong interest in the
classical guitar, at least 6 of his 13 concertos involving the instrument.
Aiming to create a Spanish ambiance in his music, the Concierto de Aranjuez references the flamenco style and Spanish folksong.
Rodrigo noted that the piece was named for the royal palace located between
Madrid and Toledo. Describing the concerto, Rodrigo once commented, “It should sound like the hidden breeze
that stirs the treetops in the parks, as strong as a butterfly, as dainty as averónica[a classic pass in bullfighting].”
Below you can listen to the Adagio from this concerto. This
movement is known as one of the most-recognized guitar melodies in history.
Take note of the beautiful lyricism used in this work. Perhaps the piece became
instantly popular following its premiere because it evokes a romanticized idea
of how the composer viewed his country rather than the difficult reality they
had just experienced during a civil war? What do you think?