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La Moldau Smetana Explication Essay

The Moldau is the most popular six works comprising Bedrich Smetana's collection of symphonic poems assembled under the title Má Vlast (My Country). It is, in fact, one of the most widely performed symphonic poems ever written. Vltava is the name of a river that runs through rural Czechoslovakia and Prague. Moldau is its German name and has come to be the preferred title for this piece, not least because Smetana himself was a German-speaking Czech. The Moldau was chronologically the second of the six works in Má Vlast. During its composition, the composer was plagued by severe headaches, symptoms of a condition that would cause him to go completely deaf in October 1874. Smetana had found his walks along the shores of the Moldau a source of compositional inspiration and thus decided to include a portrait of it in this series, which he began in 1872 with Vysehrad. He gave The Moldau a sort of Rondo structure and divided it into eight continuous sections. A pair of swirling flutes opens the work to represent the two sources (springs) of the Moldau, and then energetic clarinets soon join them before the famous main theme is presented. Played by the strings overtop busily swirling harmonies, this melody has a Czech folk-like character in its serene, proud character, and represents the Moldau River. Oddly, research supports the view that the source of this theme is a Swedish folk song, Ack, Värmland du sköna. After some development of the river theme, there follows the "Forest Hunt," wherein horns and trumpets impart a triumphant sense to the music. Another but quite lively and joyous folk-ish theme then depicts a "Peasant Wedding" celebration. "Moonlight: Dance of the Water Nymphs" ensues, bringing instrumentation of delicate textures and music of nocturnal serenity. The main theme briefly returns before "The Rapids," a lively, powerful section in some ways corresponding to the "Thunderstorm" in Beethoven's Symphony No. 6. Again, the river theme returns, but soon yields to the Vysehrad, wherein Smetana quotes the main theme from the set's first symphonic poem. This grandiose section leads to what would be a quiet ending, but for the two boisterous chords that spring up to close the work. The Moldau typically has a duration of about 12 to 13 minutes.

The Moldau , Czech Vltava, symphonic poem by Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana that evokes the flow of the Vltava River—or, in German, the Moldau—from its source in the mountains of the Bohemian Forest, through the Czech countryside, to the city of Prague. A devoutly patriotic work, The Moldau captures in music Smetana’s love of his homeland. Completed in 1874 and first performed the following year, the piece constitutes the second movement of a six-movement suite, Má vlast (My Country), which premiered in its entirety in Prague on November 5, 1882.

Smetana conceived of a series of orchestral pieces with topics drawn from the legends and landscapes of his homeland, what he called “musical pictures of Czech glories and defeats.” It took the better part of the 1870s for the composer to bring the idea to full fruition as Má vlast. Each movement of the suite is a self-standing symphonic poem with its own program (story). In the order of their placement within the suite, the movements portray chivalrous deeds at a medievalcastle (Vyšehrad); a river journey with scenes of rural life (Vltava); the legendary revenge of a spurned maiden (Šárka); the fields and woods along the Elbe River (Z c̆eských luhů a hájů); the perseverance of Czech warriors (Tábor); and the reminder of their eventual return in victory (Blanik).

Má vlast ultimately became Smetana’s most enduring composition, and of its movements, the second, The Moldau, has remained the most popular. The movement starts with light, rippling figures that represent the emergence of the Moldau River as two mountain springs, one warm and one cold. Water from the springs then combines to become a mighty river, symbolized by a thickly orchestrated, stately theme that recurs periodically throughout the remainder of the work. Farther downstream, the river passes jubilant hunters, portrayed by a horn melody, and then passes a village wedding, signaled by a passage in polka rhythm. The river then enters a gorge where, according to legend, water nymphs—suggested by serene and mysterious melodies—come out to bathe in the moonlight. With the morning light, the main river theme returns, though it soon breaks into tumultuousdissonance as the river enters the St. John’s Rapids. Beyond the white water, the river reaches Prague, where to grand arpeggios of a regal hymn, it flows past the castle Vyšehrad, once the seat of power for Bohemian kings. After fading to a trickle, the piece—and the journey—comes to an unambiguous close with a loud two-chord cadence.

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