“The Vltava” is one of the works known to everyone. At least everyone who has heard the piece once has its powerfully swelling theme in their ears.
If you listen to the piece, you would never suspect that Smetana suffered a blow of fate during the composition, which would mean the end for most people. Because he fell ill with paralysis and within a few weeks he became completely deaf.
Bitterly, he withdrew from Prague’s musical life and from then on lived in the rural solitude of a small village near the Elbe.
But despite his infirmity, he was to create his most important works over the next few years, such as the operas “The Kiss” and “The Secret”. And also the tone poem “My Fatherland”, whose central movement is “The Vltava”.
Smetana himself wrote about the piece: “The composition describes the course of the Vltava, beginning with the two small springs, the cold and the warm Vltava, the unification of the two little streams into one river, the course of the Vltava through forests and meadows, through landscapes where a peasant wedding is being celebrated, the nymphs dance their round dance at night moonlight. Proud castles, palaces and ruins tower on the nearby rocks. The Vltava swirls in the rapids of the St. John’s River; in the broad course it flows further towards Prague, past Vyšehrad, and in the majestic course it finally disappears in the distance in the Elbe”.
If you follow the music, you can follow this story meticulously.
0:00 The two flutes with their bubbling sound figures symbolize the two sources from which the Vltava flows.
At 1:10 we can hear the famous theme of the Vltava in the oboes and violins. The two streams meet and the course of the river begins.
2:52 On the banks are the hunters gathered together, and from afar the horns sound.
3:55 And here is the witness of a wedding party dancing to the typical sounds of a Bohemian polka.
At about 5:00 the night falls. In the swaying rhythm of the already known source figures fairies dance in the nightly moonlight.
8:13 The Vltava theme
9:00 Suddenly danger threatens. The Johannis rapids whirl through the orchestra and show Smetana’s whole art of dramatic musical performance.
10:17 The Theme of the Moldau
10:47 Finally the broad river leads past the castle Vyšehrad and finally flows into the Elbe.