1874-79: Smetana: My Homeland

FRIDAY, November 27, 2020 – 9:57 AM

This whole set of tone poems is about the length of a Maher symphony, so I would not even think about listening to the whole thing until you have listened to “The Moldau”.

So start here first, listen to this one famous tone poem first.

14:59 Vltava (The Moldau)

My Homeland (Má vlast), age 50-55


  • piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons
  • four French horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba
  • timpani, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, two harps
  • strings

Theodore Kuchar conducting the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra

Smetena was born in 1824, 17 years before Antonín Dvořák, one of my favorite composers, and although he never attained the same degree of world fame as Dvorak (usually spelled without the extra accents in the West.)

A tone poem in six parts

I have mainly heard the second part, “The Moldau”, but there are five more parts in addition to that one.

Vyšehrad (The High Castle)

A four note motif (B♭-E♭-D-B♭) represents the castle of Vyšehrad; this is heard again at the end of ‘Vltava’ and once more, to round the whole cycle off, at the conclusion of ‘Blaník’.

Vltava (The Moldau)

This is the really famous part that the whole world knows. I always hear Mendelssohn in this music, who was long dead by the time it was written, but Smetana was only 15 years younger than Mendelssohn and would have known his music well.This describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, then all the way until it’s end at the Labe (or Elbe, in German.)


The third tone poem was finished on 20 February 1875 and is named for the female warrior Šárka, a central figure in the ancient Czech legend of The Maidens’ War.

Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemia’s woods and fields)

The beauty of the Czech countryside and its people. The tone poem tells no real story. It was originally written to be the finale of Má vlast.


This piece, which was finished on 13 December 1878 and premiered on 4 January 1880, is named for the city of Tábor in the south of Bohemia founded by the Hussites and serving as their center during the Hussite Wars. The theme for the piece is quoted from the first two lines of the Hussite hymn, “Ktož jsú boží bojovníci” (“Ye Who Are Warriors of God”).


This is about an army of knights led by St. Wenceslas. Blaník was finished on 9 March 1879 and premiered on 4 January 1880. It is named for the mountain Blaník.  A legend says that inside this mountain a huge army of knights led by St. Wenceslas sleep. The knights will awake and help the country in its gravest hour.

6 thoughts on “1874-79: Smetana: My Homeland

  1. I was only really familiar with the Moldau movement; knew little about Smetana other than the name. Thank you for putting this all together in one place. I love the music and the “painting” that it paints in sound. I was not able to read and listen to everything in one visit, and intend to come back for the rest.

  2. The Moldau- Listening to this music I can picture the water flowing peacefully, reaching a turbulent spot then becoming peaceful once again. There is a point which sounds like people dancing. I can also hear a recurring theme. The piece comes to an unexpected ending.

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