Film director Milos Forman tells a story from his childhood during the Nazi occupation of his country, Czechoslovakia. A silent film of an opera was screened in his home village. The audience sat quietly during the (silent) overture but then everyone spontaneously burst into song when the opening chorus began. This was a moment for Czechs to sing as one and declare their national identity during a dark period in their history. The opera was The Bartered Bride by Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884). Smetana would no doubt have been delighted to know that the words of the opening chorus were known by heart well over half a century after the opera was premièred. Smetana worked tirelessly to promote a Czech identity in music. It is all the more remarkable that he pursued this task without drawing upon folk music. Opera in Czech was a good place to start. All up, he composed eight complete operas. In the area of instrumental music he is best known for Má vlast (My Homeland), a cycle of symphonic poems on Czech themes. Smetana’s private life was marked by tragedy. Three of his four daughters died in infancy and ten years into their marriage, his wife died. He subsequently remarried but around the age of 50 suffered from the effects of syphilis. This led to total loss of hearing, insanity and death.

© Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra