Thursday, December 11, 2014

Czech Nationalism in Music: The Moldau

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 country.”

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 tongue.

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?

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