Bedřich Smetana – Vltava, from Má vlast

Czechoslovakian composer Bedřich Smetana wrote a set of six symphonic poems entitled “Má vlast”–literally translated as “homeland”. Typically they are performed as a set, with the exception of this one, the Vltava, (number two of the set) which for whatever reason philharmonics may perform on its own.

The River Vltava is the longest river that runs through the Czech Republic. In the video, you can hear how Smetana evokes winding, rushing path the water takes–from its smooth, rippling beginning to its wild, splashing rapids and how the eddies swirl back down to a calmer state. I especially love the syncopated harp, violins’ pizzicato, and triangle in the beginning! It adds light and texture; one can practically hear the sun glinting off a random ripple here and there; perhaps it’s also the arched trail of water droplets from a random fish hopping out of the water. The other part I love is the gradual addition of pairs of instruments, like different branches of the river gradually coming all together to one main source. It creates a very intimate portrait in the beginning with sole focus on just a few instruments, and almost this IMAX, zoomed-out view when it all comes together.

Unfortunately, this video is cut off before the piece actually ends… however, it is the best recording on YouTube that has video of the orchestra. The next best recording is here: [full audio recording], however I feel it lacks some of the character of Kubelik’s recording. I wouldn’t waste my time on any of the other orchestra-view videos currently on YouTube–they drag, feel heavy, have ensemble issues.

Má vlast
1. Vyšehrad (The High Castle)
2. Vltava (also known as “Die Moldau” in German)
3. Šárka (name of a warrior maiden from ancient Czechslovakian legend of the Maidens’ War)
4. Z českých luhů a hájů (“From Bohemia’s woods and fields”)
5. Tábor (a city)
6. Blaník (a mountain which, legend has it, houses the armies of St. Wenceslas who will awaken and help the country in its most dire hour)

conductor, Rafael Kubelik
Czech Philharmonic, 1990

Feel free to follow along in the conductor’s score here: [Vltava score]

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