The Baroque Era
The Classical Era
The Romantic Era
The 20th Century
Further References and
The Romantic Era
Just as the word "Classic" brings to mind certain concepts, the word "romantic" is even more evocative. Such examples as Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" and
the paintings of Delacroix - Romaticism implies fantasy, spontaneity and sensitivity.
The Classical period was oriented towards structural clarity and emotional
restraint. Classical music was expressive, but not so passionate that it
became unbalanced. Beethoven, who was actually responsible for "lighting the flame of Romanticism" and is considered a bridge between the eras, always fought
(not always successfully) for maintaining the equilibrium of a piece. Most composers of the Romantic period followed this model of Beethoven's and looked for
their own balance between emotional intensity and classical form. "Musical story-telling" also started to play a not negligible role, with pieces having to
express some factual content, not only in opera but in purely instrumental compositions. The genre of the symphonic poem was brought to the fore during the Romantic era. In its performance, a conposition had to set a scene, and then tell
a story from that scene.
The color of sound is a characteristic, expressive device of Romantic music. New instruments, never before featured there, found their way into orchestras and
composers experimented with new ways of wresting new sounds out of old instruments. A large pallet of the colors of sound, necessary for expressing exotic
scenes, was an element no composer's technique could be without. Exoticness was
an obsession of the 19th century. Russian composers wrote music describing the
Spanish countryside (ie. Capriccio Espagnol by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff) and
German composers about Scotland (ie. Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony). The
stories in opera were also mostly set in exotic localities, such as Verdi's "Aida" in Ancient Egypt.
Another new element brought to music by the Romantic period was the appropriation of folk music for Classical music. Nationalism became a driving force in the
later Romantic period, with composers trying to express their cultural identity
through their music. These trends were mostly apparent in Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe, where elements of folk songs even became parts of symphonies, symphonic poems and other forms.
The Romantic era was a paradise of virtuosos. Exceptional talents of interpretation were extremely popular. Franz Liszt, a Hungarian pianist and composer,
played the piano with such vigour and passion that women fainted. Because so many of the authors of this period were such virtuosos, the music that they wrote
is also very demanding in its technical execution.
Czech Music of the Romantic Era
This period saw the advance of the National Revival in the Czech Lands. The greatest display of these revivalist tendencies in the spirit of Romanticism
appeared primarily in Czech opera. The resounding success of Weigl's
singspiel Swiss Family in 1823 inspired Chmelensky and Frantisek
Skroup (1801 - 1862) to original Czech singspiel. Skroup was born at Osice
u Pardubic and began attempts at composing while still in school there, and continuing to do so during his studies of philosophy and law in Prague. After the
performance of his eclectic singspiel Dratenik (1826), he became the
conductor of the Theater of the Estates. With Chmelensky he composed other the
Czech operas Oldrich a Bozena (1826) and Libusin snatek (1835) (the Marriage of Libuse). The music for Tylo's play Fidlovacka (Spring Festival)
is the memorable song Kde domov muj(Where is My Home).
Bedrich Smetana was born in Litomysl to the third marriage of Master Brewer Frant. Smetana to Barbora Linkova. The family was constantly on the move,
and young Bedrich went to high school in Jindrichuv Hradec, Jihlava, Havlickuv
Brod, Prague and Plzen, where he graduated under the supervision of his cousin.
He appeared as a pianist for the first time in 1830 at the Litomysl Academy of
Philosophy. A deciding factor in Smetana's artistic development was his study
under Josef Proksch in Prague, where he went in 1843. After completing his studies, he founded his own private piano school in Prague, and a year later married his teenage love Katerina Kolarova.
During this period, he devoted his compositional efforts almost exclusively to
the piano. The peak of this period's production is his Klavirni trio g moll (1855) (Piano trio in g minor), into which he wrote his grief over the death of his daughter Bedriska. In an attempt to escape a place where evrything
reminded him of his lost fortune, Smetana decided to change his locale, and in
1856 he moved to Goteborg, Sweden. When the northern climate accelerated Katerina's illness (she died in 1859), he brought a new bride to Sweden a year later,
20-year-old Bettina Ferdinandiova.
Smetana was a great admirer of Franz Liszt, and they were in frequent contact
through correspondence and personal meetings. He was engrossed with Liszt's
greatest idea - the symphonic poem. This gave rise to such works as his
Richard III., Valdstynuv tabor (Waldstein's Camp) and Hakon Jarl.
After the easing of the situation in the Czech lands, he hurried home, where things didn't go too well for him. In 1863 he finished the singspiel Branibory
v Cechach (Brandenburgers in Bohemia,with a libretto by Karel Sabina), which was a great success - and brought its author some much-needed finances. He
completed Prodanou nevestu (The Bartered Bride) in 1866 and directed it
In 1873, Smetana also became the chief director of opera and drama of the Provisional Theater, where he concentrated his energies primarily on operas. The fruit of these efforts are such works as Dalibor, Rolnicka, Libusin soud and others. During this period, after three years of work, came his masterpiece
Libuse. The opera came out of his awareness of his ultimate responsibility, his love of the nation, and his firm belief in its future.
On the nights of October 19 and 20, 1874, as a result of a long illness, Smetana was inflicted with worst misfortune that can befall a composer: absolute deafness. In this state, he undertook the realization of his long-held creative
project: to celebrate his homeland and nation with a cycle of symphonic poems.
The result was the cycle Ma vlast (My Homeland), consisting of the parts
Vysehrad, Vltava, Sarka, Z ceskych luhu a haju (From Czech Fields and Groves), Tabor and Blanik. Towards the end of his life, he composed another great
string of operas, Hubicka (1876) (The Kiss), Tajemstvi (1877)
(The Secret) a Certova stena (1879 - 82) (The Devil's Wall). Bedrich Smetana died on May 12, 1884 in the Prague Institute for the Mentally Ill.
Another monument of Czech Romanticism is Antonin Dvorak. He was born on
September 8, 1841 in Nelahozevse, where he grew up in an atmosphere of village
musicianship. At sixteen, he came to Prague to attend organ school, and he later became the violist in Komzak's ensemble, with which he came to the Provisional Theater. His first work was Hymnus from Halek's Dedicu Bile hory (Inheritors of White Mountain). He won a state scholarship and Johannes Brahms, the most influential member of the panel, recommended him to the Berlin
publisher Simrock, for whom he wrote his first piece in 1878 Slovanskych tancu (Slavonic Dance), which immediately became famous all over the world.
His symphonic works were promoted by Bulow, Richter and others, and his oratorios and cantatas became representative pieces for domestic singing companies as
well as for famous English festivals. In 1890 and 1891, Dvorak was named a Doctor honoris causa at Cambridge and Prague universities. He was a professor after 1891, and after the period from 1892 to 1895, when he was the artistic director for the National Conservatory in New York City, he was the artistic director for the Prague Conservatory. Honored as one of the greatest composers of his time, Dvorak died in Prague on May 1, 1904.
Beside Smetana and Dvorak, the most distinctive figure of this period was Zdenek Fibich (1850 - 1900). His work was dedicated to the widest diversity
of subjects. His songs [Sestero pisni (Six of Songs), Jarni paprsky (Spring
Rays) a duets have an intimate charcter. His compositions for piano are represented by such pieces as the lyrical cycle Z hor (From the Mountains)
and the four-handed Sonata in B Major. His orchestral production encompassed all the genres of the era; his Third Symphony in E minor belongs
besides Dvorak's symphonies among the best Czech symphonies of the 19th century. The most important of Fibich's operas Nevesta mesinska (The Bride of Messina) and Sarka. A significant part of Fibich's pieces were melodramas
- Stedry den, Pomsta kvetin, (Christmas Eve, Revenge of the Flowers) and
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