Bedřich Smetana is regarded as the father of Czech music. His opera, The Bartered Bride, and the sweeping orchestral tapestry, Má Vlast (My Country), enjoy wide appeal in concert halls and opera houses the world over. Though exalted now at home and abroad, Smetana’s path to fame was bumpy. Unable to find sustaining musical opportunities in Prague, Smetana moved to Sweden, where he honed his craft as a composer, and took a leading role in developing a classical conservatory in Gothenburg. Upon his return to Prague, years later, Smetana finally found success in his hometown only to suffer rapidly declining health, notably in the loss of his hearing.
While Smetana’s large scale compositions deal with Czech folklore and nationalistic pride, his four chamber works, consisting of one piano trio, two string quartets and a duo for violin and piano, turn their attention inward. The String Quartet in E minor, From My Life, is just what it sounds, an autobiographical tale. It is possessed of youthful exuberance, profound love, joy and ultimately, loss. The last movement is famous for its high, whistling ‘E’ harmonic, the harbinger of encroaching deafness and the unraveling of his life’s greatest pleasure. Although the beginning and end of this work are of a sober mood, this is largely joyous music full of uplifting sentiments and Puckish wit. It holds a deserving place in the great standard string quartet repertoire.
Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884)
String Quartet in E minor, From My Life (1876)
I. Allegro vivo appassionato
II. Allegro moderato alla polka
III. Largo sostenuto