Vltava (The Moldau River) by Bedrich Smetana;
Vilem Tausky conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Vltava (also known as Die Moldau in German) is the name of the longest river in the Czech Republic and is also the title of the second of the six symphonic poems composed by the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), which are collectively known as Má Vlast (My Homeland). Through his music, Smetana attempted to celebrate Bohemia’s history, mythology and landscape.
In this tone poem, completed in 1874, Smetana tries to evoke the passage of the Vltava River as it flows from its origin until it merges with the Elbe at the German border.
From the composer’s notes we learn that the river begins as a single tributary represented by the sound of the flutes. The clarinets join the flutes to represent the second tributary. The violins, oboes, and bassoons unite to play the famous theme based on a Bohemian folk melody that keeps recurring throughout the piece as a way of showing how the river continues to gain strength as it flows.
We hear the horns that portray the passage of the river through a forest where a hunt is in progress.
We then hear the dance music, part polka – part march, reminding us that the river is flowing past a village where a rustic wedding celebration is taking place.
A climax is reached, and subsides as the moon – represented by pianissimo woodwind figures – rises and sparkles in the rippling water. Fluctuating flutes lead to the “dance of the Water Nymphs”.
The river pursues a smooth course, but its pace quickens as it tumbles and foams over the St John rapids.
The river recovers from its turmoil to flow majestically into Prague, where it passes under the great fortress of VYŠEHRAD (the subject of the first tone poem of the set – Smetana quotes here from its music).
The river flows on, leaving Prague behind. The music subsides and fades, perhaps indicating that the river is fading out of sight, but Smetana ends his music with two emphatic chords, which is his way of telling us that the story has ended!
Here I am providing a visual backdrop to Smetana’s musical composition by using scenes captured along the Potomac River as it flows through Washington, DC and the surrounding areas. The dance scenes were captured during a boat ride and a walk along the Seine in Paris. Instead of the moon, we see the sun sparkling on the water. The movements of the geese and the ducks on a nearby lake symbolize the dance of the “water nymphs.” Also, instead of the landmarks from Prague, we see the great monuments of Washington, DC.