Get to know the most famous Czech composers
There will be several important anniversaries in 2014: the 190th anniversary of Bedřich Smetana’s birthday, 110th anniversary of the death of Antonín Dvořák, and 160th anniversary of the birth of Leoš Janáček. Let’s take a brief look at their lives!
The deaf genius of Czech music Bedřich Smetana
Bedřich Smetana was born on March 2, 1824 as the 11th child in a brewer’s family in Litomyšl. He was already playing the violin in a quartet when he was five years old, then the piano a year later, and he was eight years old when he composed his first work. He went to Prague to study music and there he worked as a teacher in the family of Count Thun. In 1856, the composer left for Gothenburg, Sweden, where he worked as a teacher, conductor, and piano virtuoso.
In 1874, Smetana suffered from an unexplained illness that caused him to lose his hearing. Most of his major works were created after this affliction – the operas Kiss, The Secret, The Devil’s Wall, both string quartets, the piano cycles Dreams and Czech dances, and a number of choral works; he completed the cycle My Country, which he worked on for five years. Smetana’s health rapidly deteriorated and the composer had to be taken to Prague and institutionalized, where he died on May 12, 1884.
The most famous son of Litomyšl is celebrated every summer with the second oldest music festival in the Czech Republic – Smetana’s Litomyšl, which takes place this year from June 13th to July 6th. Mainly presented are opera performances, gala concerts, cantatas and song evenings, with the colorful program also including ballet and promenade concerts.
The explosively eccentric Antonín Dvořák
Antonín Dvořák was born on September 8th, 1841 in Nelahozeves, where he spent his youth. Little Antonín was drawn to music in childhood – he played the violin, piano and organ. Thanks to an uncle, who supported him financially, Dvořák went to Prague, where he studied at organ school.
His first success came in 1877, when Dvořák’s work attracted the attention of the already famous composer Johannes Brahms. Antonín Dvořák, however, was certainly no staid and serious artist. His contemporaries considered him strange and explosively eccentric. He liked to wear conspicuous clothing and write out his thoughts on his cuffs. He did not like to change his place of residence – he spent his whole life at the same address, and when it came time to move, he found a bigger apartment just upstairs.
Traveling for him was a necessary evil, and it is therefore surprising that in 1892 he took up the post of Director of the New York Conservatory. Life in the USA stirred him to write his 9th Symphony – the New World. After returning to Prague he conducted the newly founded Czech Philharmonic, taught at the conservatory and wrote his symphonic poems and operas – Jacobin, The Devil and Kate, and Rusalka. Dvořák’s sixtieth birthday in 1901 became a national event. On this occasion Emperor Franz Josef I raised him to the nobility and appointed him a member of the Upper House of the Imperial Council in Vienna.
Dvořák’s work includes nearly 120 opuses, most of which are major orchestral, vocal and instrumental music, or dramatic works. His music is presented every year at the international music festival Dvořák’s Olomouc, which will be held in 2014 from April 30th to May 24th. Antonín Dvořák worked in Olomouc mainly in the years 1888 – 1898, where he worked with the musical singing society Žerotín.
A lover of Moravian folk songs, Leoš Janáček
Leoš Janáček was born in Hukvaldy on July 3rd, 1854. When he was eleven years old, his father sent him to study in Brno, and then to Prague and Vienna. After his studies, he returned to Brno to become the director of the organ school, and he worked as a conductor and soon began his career as a composer. He began to intensively study and collect folk songs and became one of the leading creators of Czech and modern music. Janáček’s operas are still played throughout the world to great applause.
In a local game park with avenues of oak, chestnut and lime trees, you will find a memorial to the Cunning Little Vixen, which reminds us of the famous opera by Leoš Janáček. It is in this beautiful setting that the tones of the International Music Festival Janáček Hukvaldy resonate every year. This year the festival will take place from July 2nd to 20th. In Hukvaldy, you can also see a monument to the famous composer with the interiors preserved since the time of Janáček’s life. Here you can learn everything about his life and work.