History of Music – Music In Bohemia

Another country in which a notable musical revival has taken place during the latter part of the present century is Bohemia, where two names are to be mentioned. Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884), is to be remembered as the creator, or at least the awakener, of Bohemian music. After a short education at the Prague university Smetana entered diligently upon the study of music, becoming a brilliant pianist, and as such forming one of the circle of enthusiastic and advancing souls surrounding Liszt at Weimar, between 1850 and 1860. His first position as musical director was at Gothenberg, 1856. Here he lost his wife, the brilliant pianist Katharina Kolar. In 1861 he made a long concert tour to Sweden. In 1866 he was appointed director of the music at the national theater in Prague, a position which he held until obliged to give it up on account of loss of hearing. in 1874. Smetana wrote eight operas upon Bohemian subjects, with music in the Bohemian spirit; one best known is “The Bartered Bride,” which was the last composed. He also wrote about ten symphonies or symphonic poems, and a great variety of chamber music. Of his symphonic poems those most often played are: ” In Wallenstein’s Camp,” ” Moldau,” Sarka” and ” Visegrad.” In all these the titles are mainly suggestive, although in ” Sarka” a programme is quite closely followed. Smetana was a brilliant composer, but his value lies in his awakening of the Bohemians to musical creation.

The most brilliant name in Bohemian music, and the one most valued by the world in general, is that of Anton Dvorak (1841-1904), who was the son of a butcher at Mulhausen. The boy early applied himself to the violin, and after some years playing in small orchestras, found a place as violinist in the orchestra of the National theater at Prague. This was at the age of nineteen. About ten years later he first attracted attention as composer, by means of a hymn for mixed chorus and orchestra. The attention of his countrymen, thus gained, Dvorak fastened still more by a succession of compositions of varied scope, ranging from the Slavic dances and Slavic rhapsodies to symphonies, chamber music and choral works of great brilliancy. In 1892 Dr. Dvorak was called to New York as director of the so-called National Conservatory of Music. In 1895 he returned to Bohemia. The choral works of Dvorak, were generally first written for English musical festivals.

The Specter’s Bride,” ” Stabat Mater,” “Saint Ludmilla.” The list of his works includes five symphonies for full orchestra, several concert overtures, a very beautiful air and variations for orchestra, and seven operas upon Bohemian subjects. Dvorak is one of the most gifted composers of the present time, especially in the matter of technique. His thematic treatment is always clever, his orchestral coloring rich and varied, and his style elegant. If deficiency is to be recorded concerning him it is in invention or innate weight of ideas. During his residence in America he promulgated the idea that an’ American school of music was to be created by developing the themes and rhythms of the negro melodies, and he wrote a symphony, ” From the New World,” in order to illustrate his meaning. The second or slow movement of this work attained a distinguished success almost everywhere; but the themes of the first and last movement are not sufficient for the treatment they receive. This work has been more successful in Europe than in this country. Perhaps the most notable quality of Dr. Dvorak’s personality is his naivete, which shows well in his music. He is quite like a modern Haydn, who has learned and remembered everything of musical coloration which has been discovered, but who applies his knowledge in a simple and direct manner without straining after effect.