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1875 – Smetana, ‘Vltava’ from Ma Vlast


1875 Smetana Ma Vlast. No.2 – Vltava
Instrumentation Strings, 2 flutes (plus piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, harp, timpani and percussion.
Overview Vltava (or Moldau) is the second of six symphonic poems written in the 1870s. They are tone poems as developed by Franz Liszt but they also have a strong nationalist flavour, using folk-like music to evoke the Czech (or for Smetana the Bohemian) countryside. Vltava is the main river that flows through Czechoslovakia.


See full score / Watch on Youtube

A) Overall form Ma Vlast (My Country) is a series of tone poems which were designed to be played separately. The overall form of Vltava is narrative, following the course of the river from its source to the sea.
H) Drama / progr. Vltava is a narrative piece and Smetana uses textures and timbres to great effect to evoke the source of the river , a country wedding, nymphs dancing in the moonlight, some rapids and the wide river as it flows to the sea among other scenes (open a booklet of extracts from the score from the score and listen to the extracts).


The source of the Vltava (Booklet: Extract 1):

Main melody:

Country wedding:

Nymphs in the moonlight:

St John’s Rapids (Booklet: Extract 2):

Vltava at its widest (Booklet: Extract 3):

L) Dance, Folk and national styles. The main tune from Vltava (see above) is a melody that pops up in a variety of folk cultures from Scotland to Ukraine. It is attributed to sixteenth century tenor Giuseppe Cenci entitled La Mantovana but has been used in lots of folk contexts and has even ended up as the tune of the Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem). In Czechoslovakia it is called ‘Kočka leze dírou‘, or ‘The Cat Crawls through the Hole.


Another folk reference is Smetana’s evocation of a country (or peasant) wedding – see above.


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