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Bedrich Smetana
Bedrich Smetana
      Bedrich Smetana (1824 – 1884) was a true composer that has been compared to many of the greats, but his music has not been performed or played very often. It is very interesting how his life has paralleled 4 of the most famous composers in both physical attributes and their musical writing styles in many ways. Smetana has been measured up to the likes of Beethoven, Schumann, Mozart and Brahms because he has been noted as a virtuoso, from his music flows intense compositions, and he had the true love and passion for music as much as all of them. The similarities go much deeper than just the previously mentioned likenesses of each of these composers. In fact if you were to take each one of their personalities and put them into one person you might get the idea of what Smetana was like.

Smetana became completely deaf like other famous composers.
Smetana became completely deaf like other famous composers.
      Physically, Smetana became completely deaf towards the end of his life, as did Beethoven. He too, heard a “ringing” in his ears, which worsened as time went on. He too wrote his final piece of music “The Devil’s Wall,” (1882) which took him 3 years to complete, as he was completely deaf like Beethoven when he wrote his “Ode To Joy.” He even implemented this tortuous note that he heard in his ears through his music (as did Beethoven).

      His mental health also declined like the other great artists, such as Schumann. Smetana became crazy and also died in an insane asylum as did the great Schumann. He was quoted as saying that he often “felt like he was under a waterfall.”

      Some good physical attributes that he possessed, was that he was compared to Mozart’s level of virtuosity style of piano playing and being actually born a child prodigy that mastered both the piano and violin. He started his compositions very early in his life, as did Mozart. He was also a proud composer (like Beethoven), which expressed through his compositions, the love of his country such as the “Vlatava (the Moldau) from Má Vlast (My Country) (1874 – 79).” This was a set of six musical landscapes or tone poems.

An aerial view of the Moldau river in Prague.
An aerial view of the Moldau river in Prague.
      Musically, Smetana can be compared to these composers by his virtuosity abilities on the piano and similar styles of that like Beethoven. He wrote short motifs that weaved in and out of his compositions. He also extended his codas like that of Beethoven. But like Brahms, he incorporated folk like melodies, which influenced many composers that followed him, such as Berlioz, Liszt and Dvorak (his pupil).

      Smetana was a nineteenth century Nationalistic composer that set the standard for all the future Czech composers. He was a true innovator that many musicians and composers strived to be like. His subject for his program music was melodic in style and gave great pulse to his compositions.

      Among his greatest works were: The Battered Bride (1886); Ma Vlast (1874-9); String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor From My Life (1876); and The Kiss, also from (1876). It should be noted that I would recommend any of these compositions to anyone that would want to learn about a relatively unheard composer. Before writing this article, I hardly knew anything about this wonderful artist. Now, he has rapidly become one of my favorites. I hope he becomes one of yours too.

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User comments:

Hey, nice article! I had a thought: Why do all these composers absolutely have to write something that has to do with the Devil in their music? Is this just a fad or is something seriously wrong on the emotional side with these guys? The greatest composer (Bach), to the best of my knowledge, never did anything like that... Just wondering, YKB

   Posted by YKB on May 18th, 2006 @ 1:18 am GMT

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