From The Moldau, Ma Vlast (My Country) by Composer Bedrich Smetana
Oil on Canvas - 30 x 24
Smetana The Moldau Vlatava 1935, Slovakia
1935, at the far eastern end of Slovakia, high in the Tatra Mountains, amid nothing but idyllic forest, luxurious mushrooms, flowing streams and the square of main street is quintessential Bohemia in the tiny village of Stropkov. A quiet agricultural village, where tourist do not stop, was a village of cobblers, traders, musicians, artisans, religion, gypsies, singing, folk art, folk songs and the laments of miss -fortunes or fortunes. Stropkov, farmed by a mixture of border and native peasants, living their industrious ethnic heritage in hard work and perhaps childlike wonder -little changed by the outside world until after World War II. The recent interest inf medieval Stropkov, far eastern mountain range villages that brought stops along trade routes, was Stropkov. Gently though obscurely situated along these ancient Greek and Byzantine trade routes from the Aegean to the Baltic, it was no fluke of history that in the 13th century the first owners of Raslavice in Sáros were Greeks. Archeological excavation sites of cultural importance date back to early 1300.
"Má vlast" (traditionally translated as "My Country" or more literally My Fatherland) is a set of six symphonic poems composed between 1874 and 1879 by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. Bederich Smetana’s Moldau, (Ma Vlast, The River) is an exhilarating ride into musical tonepoem vignettes of folklore beauty where old world tales of Bohemian peasant life, gypsy violins, wild Czardas dance, and the survival of peasant dreams abide in the love of Smetana’s country.
The most popular selection of these symphonic poems is the second piece, Vltava, the Czech name of the great river usually called, in German, the Moldau. It was given a full description by the composer himself in 1879- "...the composition depicts the course of the river from its beginning, where two brooks, one cold the other warm, join in a stream that runs through forests and meadows; and the lovely countryside where merry feasts and gay festivals are being celebrated; by the light of the moon a dance of water nymphs; on the nearby cliffs proud castles, mansions and ruins rise up; the Vltava swirls in the St. John rapids, flows in a broad stream as far as Prague, passes Vysehrad and disappears into the distance where it unite with the Elbe..." but listening to Vltava during the section of St. John's rapids, the strength and acute descriptive pleasure of traveling is this tone poem at its best.
Each of us has a personal mechanism to memory. Nationalistic tone poems and themes bring Olympic Athletes to tears as the spirit of motherland is always close and never far or forgotten. Nationalistic music can be a tonic to the homesick and the pride of the home. I imagine that the deep grief of separation from homeland, family and heritage is an experience immigrants know well. The childhood days of Christmas and Easter Holiday Eves brought me the warmth of holiday smells in traditional baking (Kolache), (Lekvar) cookies and bread (Paska) baked and proudly set out- displayed, the center of attraction, in quiet rows, on embroidered towels or pretty dishes the night of these feasts. Each tall round, sweet smell of rising warm breads, crowned in shining amber crusts became her family those times, those nights. Her sisters and parents, there with her tonight. The heartache came and went away for her. I looked long at the breads displayed like trophies, and looked at her watching over them. I named them to myself, perhaps as she may have- Mama, Teta, Irena, Helen, Betta, Pop.
While Má vlast (My Country) is occasionally presented as a single work in six movements, the individual pieces were conceived as a set of individual works in 1872. At that time Smetana’s faith and belief in his homeland led him to compose a series of symphonic tone poems that would best describe several aspects of his beloved Bohemia, it's people, their history, their myths and their vision of independence as a nation. The first cycle Vysehrad, was completed on November 18, 1874 and was first performed two months later. It takes its name from the great rocky citadel above the Moldau River (Vltava) where Prague was first settled.
Suffering with a form of deafness, while treated with ineffectual therapy, Smetana overcame his physical hardships with extraordinary self- determination, never giving up to express his belief of heroism and faith in the Czech nation.
As described by Mr. Chawkin of a 1993 recording by the Czech Philharmonic of Mà Vlast- ...For me the greatness of this performance is in it's lyric warmth... the audience must have thought back to the old legend of the heroes who would return to save the country in its darkest hour - the pastoral predominate…