Bedrich Smetana (1824-84) was a Czech composer and conductor, and wrote the symphonic poem The Moldau from Má Vlast in 1874. Smetana was well-known for his nationalistic compositions, and was best known for the following two nationalistic works: The Bartered Bride, an opera, and Má Vlast, a cycle of six symphonic poems. Smetana was born in a small town in Bohemia (known today as the Czech Republic), the seventh child of a wealthy brewer (his father was also an amateur violinist). Smetana played the violin and piano from an early age, and began composing when he was eight.
Smetana studied music composition with Josef Proksch in Prague from 1843-47 (Proksch was noted for his progressive style of teaching, and was the founder of a Prague music school called Musikbildungsanstalt).  In addition to being a composer and a strong supporter of nationalistic Czech music, Smetana was a conductor, pianist and teacher. For over twenty years, he supported his family by teaching music, including a six year stay in Sweden, where he composed, conducted and taught. Smetana's orchestral music, particularly his symphonic poems, were influenced by Liszt (while living abroad, Smetana was befriended by Liszt).
In 1866, Smetana was appointed the conductor of Prague's Provisional Theatre, and while there, he was able to include the works of many Czech artists in the repertory played by the orchestra. Operas were also performed at the Provisional Theatre, including some by Smetana (most of his operas had a nationalistic theme and used the Czech language). Out of the eight operas Smetana completed, his most successful was The Bartered Bride, an opera based on folk material and Bohemian legends. Smetana also composed songs, music for orchestra and chamber ensembles, and music for piano. Many of his works were programmatic with a nationalistic theme.
Like Beethoven, Smetana became deaf towards the end of his life. He continued to compose during this time, and wrote two string quartets, his last three operas, and completed Má Vlast, a cycle of six symphonic poems. A symphonic poem (also known as a tone poem) is a programmatic orchestral work that expresses extra musical ideas such as emotions, scenes or events through the music. Má Vlast is an example of nationalistic music and program music, and represents Smetana's deep love for his country. Smetana employed programmatic elements in Má Vlast to evoke the beauty of the country, legends of the past, and great moments in Bohemian history.   
The best known of the six symphonic poems in Má Vlast is the second, The Moldau (Vltava). Smetana used programmatic compositional techniques to depict the Moldau River, the longest river in Czechoslovakia. The Moldau River flows for nearly 300 miles. It begins in the Bohemian Forest, runs through the capital of Prague, and finally empties into the Elbe River. Smetana included the following description in a program he wrote to accompany The Moldau's musical score:
Two springs pour forth in the shade of the Bohemian forest, one warm and gushing, the other cold and peaceful. Their waves joyously rush down over their rocky beds, then unite and glisten in the rays of the morning sun. Coming through Bohemia's valleys, they grow into a mighty river. Through the thick woods it flows as the joyous sounds of a hunt and the hunter's horn are heard ever closer. It flows through grass-grown pastures and lowlands where a wedding feast is being celebrated with song and dance. At night, wood and water nymphs revel in its sparkling waves. Reflected on its surface are fortresses and castles—witnesses of past days of knightly splendor and the vanished glory of bygone ages. The Moldau swirls through the St. John Rapids, finally flowing on in majestic peace toward Prague to be welcomed by historic Vyšehrad [a legendary royal castle]. Then it vanishes far beyond the poet's gaze.
TECHNIQUE TIPS: This arrangement is an excerpt from The Moldau, and highlights programmatic features from Smetana's work. In the first two measures, the rippling sounds in the piano part evoke the sound of the source of the Moldau: two rippling springs. The rippling piano part continues throughout the piece, unifying the composition with the sound of water in motion, and the primary melody begins in measure 3. This main theme has a broad, majestic and flowing sound, and represents the Moldau River as it travels through Czecheslovokia.
The tempo marking at the beginning of this piece is allegro comodo non agitato, meaning the piece should be played in a fast, yet leisurely tempo that is neither too fast nor too slow, and should be performed in a manner that is not agitated or restless (allegro means lively and fast; comodo is a comfortable, leisurely tempo; and non agitato means not agitated). As you play this piece, use smooth bows, and when tenuto markings are used with slurred notes, make sure you slightly pause between the notes to slightly separate them (as in measures 4, 7, 8, 9, etc.). Although no dynamic markings are provided in this arrangement, you may want to experiment with different ways to musically express the mood and imagery of this piece. Note that in measure 26, a D# accidental is added to the melody in this measure only. The very last note of the piece is held for 3 measures while the bass line of the piano plays the rippling sound of the stream one final time. As you play this last note, use a down-bow, and although no additional bow markings are indicated, if you're running out of bow, try to imperceptibly and smoothly change your bow as often as needed, then end with a down bow.
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