Musical Selection: The Moldau
Composer: Bedrich Smetana (1824 – 1884)
"The Moldau” is the second movement of a beautiful six-part symphonic work entitled "Ma Vlast” or "My Fatherland.” The movement represents a musical painting of the river Moldau. This river begins in the dark Bohemian forest, flows through the beautiful city of Prague, joins the Elbe, flows through Germany and empties into the North Sea.
Smetana prefaced the musical score with the following descriptive notes:
"The Moldau” represents an exceptional expression of patriotic or nationalistic music. The musical poem reflects the pride, oppression, and hope of the Bohemian people.”
"Two springs pour forth in the shade of the Bohemian Forest, one warm and gushing, the other cold and peaceful. Their waves, gaily flowing over rocky beds, join and glisten in the rays of the morning sun. The forest brook, hastening on, becomes the river Vltava (Moldau.) Coursing through Bohemia’s valleys, it grows into a mighty stream. Through thick woods it flows, as the gay sounds of the hunt and the notes of the hunter’s horn are heard ever nearer. 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 bygone days of knightly splendor and the vanished glory of fighting times. At the St. John Rapids the stream races ahead, winding through the cataracts, heaving on a path with its foaming waves through the rocky chasm into the broad river bed— finally. Flowing on in majestic peace toward Prague—finally. Flowing on in majestic peace toward Prague and welcomed by time-honored Vysehrad (castle.) Then it vanishes far beyond the poet’s gaze.” (Preface to the original score, Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York, The Concert Companion p. 672)
1. Mountain springs—Dark Bohemian Forest: The piece begins with the flutes and harp bringing to mind raindrops and the emergence of two rippling springs. The first spring is painted with the strings; the second by the clarinets.
2. The Mountain Stream: The "Moldau” first emerges. Strings lead the entire orchestra into musically depicting a powerful mountain spring in a beautiful forest setting.
3. Hunter’s Theme: Signaled with the horns and trumpets.
4. Wedding Theme/Polka Celebration: A wonderful, first pulsating, then dancing, rhythm represents a wedding celebration on the river’s banks. The entire orchestra is employed.
5. Moonlight: On a broader, calmer valley river. Muted strings, woodwinds, and harps gently paint this image.
6. Majestic Moldau: The Maldau theme is repeated by the orchestra.
7. Rapids: Turbulent, powerful and unruly. The Moldau is now a mighty river rushing toward Prague.
8. Prague and the Mature River: The Moldau proudly flows through the city and fades into the distance, and, eventually, the North Sea.
"The Moldau” represents an exceptional expression of patriotic or nationalistic music. The musical poem reflects the pride, oppression, and hope of the Bohemian people.
Before World War 1 Bohemia, presently the Czech Republic, was ruled by the Austro- Hungarian Empire. While under Austrian rule the Bohemians desperately attempted to preserve their culture. Bohemia had emerged in the 900’s as a semi-independent kingdom with the Holy Roman Empire. In the 1300’s, with Charles IV, a Bohemian Roman Emperor, Prague became one of Europe’s leading cities.
However, during the 1400’s Bohemia lost its independence and became dominated by a series of Catholic Austrian rulers. Protestant Bohemians, filled with the spirit of the Reformation, rebelled in 1618. This rebellion evolved into the Thirty Years War throughout Europe. Despite their pride and bravery, the Bohemian resistance was crushed by the Hapsburg armies in 1619. The Bohemians were forced to accept German culture and language. However, the Bohemian desire for autonomy was not successfully suppressed. In the 1870’s Bohemians interest in freedom intensified. During this time they embraced Smetana’s Ma Vlast, which contained "The Moldau,” as a patriotic symphonic national anthem. This, in fact, was the composer’s intention. He wanted his masterpiece to remind both his countrymen and outsiders of Bohemia’s special beauty, culture, and destiny.
Bedrich Smetana, and his pupil Dvorak (New World Symphony) were zealous Bohemian patriots. Both composers were forced, at times, to seek asylum in foreign countries. Smetana moved to Sweden where he composed, conducted, and promoted an appreciation for the new "radical” music of Liszt and Wagner. When Smetana returned to his homeland in 1861 he was determined to demonstrate to the world the unique beauty of Bohemian culture. He taught himself Bohemian, which had been banned by the Austrian rulers, and integrated local folk tunes into his compositions. Audiences throughout Europe were enchanted by his "The Bartered Bride” with its polkas and melodic choruses. He also composed political opera which were so popular that special trains had to be scheduled to accommodate the crowds.
Smetana began to work on "Ma Vlast in 1874. It took him four years to complete the symphony. Like Beethoven before him he became totally deaf. He finished the symphony unable to actually hear it. At the opening performance the excitement and exuberance of the audience was uncontrollable. After each part the audience stood, waved their hats, clapped, and shouted their approval and Smetana’s name. After the final notes the crowd erupted into total jubilation and a political demonstration. Smetana, deaf and in poor mental (depression) and physical health, was likewise overwhelmed. Smetana died in Prague in 1884, a national hero. (Wapedia, re. Bedrich Smetana)
1. Music Appreciation: The students can listen to and describe the eight sections of "The Moldau.”
2. Music-History: Analyze the role of Bohemia in The Thirty Years War and its emergence as an independent republic as the Soviet Union contracted into Russia. Discuss the effect of music on revolutionary efforts.
3. Music-Geography: Chart the river and its course to the Red Sea.
4. Music-Art: Artistically respond to the musical slide show that is "The Moldau.”