Smetana’s "My Country"

Romantic music of the 19th century offers a large number of programmatic pieces, but only one full-length cycle of symphonic poems, and that is My Country. It was created between 1874 and 1879 by the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana (1824 - 1884). That was a time when the Czechs strove for independence from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and so many pieces of art at that time were aimed at strengthening national pride. Today, the nationalistic value of the composition is not felt so strongly, but the beauty and poetics of the music itself has appealed to people of all nationalities all over the world for over one hundred years. We must also admire this unique creative achievement because Smetana wrote it at the time when he was already completely deaf.

The programme consists of two parts. The first part, approximately 31 min. long, presents Smetana’s My Country in three levels: Firstly, we hear opinions and experiences of famous Czech and international conductors and musicians illustrated by excerpts of their performances of My Country (Libor Pešek, Jiří Bělohlávek, Jiří Kout, Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Roger Norrington, Rafael Kubelík). Secondly, we are offered photographs by Jan Šimon Fiala who, during seven years, took pictures of the places in Bohemia that relate to the composition, capturing the content, atmosphere and spirit of Smetana’s music. In the third level, the film presents historical materials about Smetana and his piece, accompanied by narration.

The second part of the film, taking about 85 min., presents all six poems from the cycle, each one conducted by a different conductor. Each part is opened by a brief outline of the poem, and comments about the conductor presented by the musicologist Dr Jiří Pilka.

Vyšehrad - Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Karel Ančerl, 1968
Vltava - Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Václav Neumann, 1981
Šárka - Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Libor Pešek, 1995
From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests - Czech Philharmonic Orchestra,
conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, 1999
Tábor - Prague Symphony Orchestra, conductor Neeme Järvi, 1994
Blaník - Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Rafael Kubelík, 1990

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Smetana´s „My Country“

director: Jaroslav Hovorka
time: 30 min.