The Skočná and other dances

Near the beginning of Act 3 of Smetana’s Bartered Bride the circus comes to town. And, after a lengthy and tongue-twisting preamble by the ringmaster featuring Esmeralda, an exotic Spanish dancer; a (fake) Red Indian and a very inebriate (and consequently also fake) dancing bear; the performers show off their acrobatic skills in the fast bit of choreography known as Dance of the Comedians. As is the case with the other dance sequences in the work (there’s a Polka and a Furiant) Smetana remains faithful to the opera’s nationalist agenda and has his circus troupe perform a traditional Czech Skočná. ((Cz.: ‘leaping’). A fast Czech dance in duple time — Grove)

The rise of Nationalism in the nineteenth century saw many ethnic groups rummaging through their (sometimes slightly mislaid) patrimony in the hope of finding cultural artifacts that were peculiarly theirs. Czech musicians seem to have hit a particularly rich vein, one that sustained a distinctive style and produced composers of the calibre of Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček and Suk.

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