Ostrčil & Foerster

If – looking back to last week – Vítězslav Novák isn’t exactly a household name, his two contemporaries, Otakar Ostrčil and Josef Bohuslav Foester, are both most definitely in the same boat as him. All three were part of a generation overshadowed by Janáček and, to a lesser extent, Suk. And yet the Czech Music Information Centre […]

V Tatrách — In the Tatras

Vítězslav Novák may not exactly be a household name, but –together with another Dvořák pupil, Josef Suk – he was one of the most influential composers and teachers of the generation that followed Smetana and Dvořák. The tone poem In the Tatras is one of his most performed works and does for the Tatras mountains (they’re on […]

Now is the Winter of our discontent…

  Richard III?? What on earth does a Shakespearean drama have to do with Czech music? Let me explain. Smetana spent some time (1856–61) teaching and conducting in Gothenburg, Sweden. During this period he wrote three descriptive orchestral pieces using the works of his mentor/hero Liszt – inventor(?) of the tondichtung (tone-poem) – as his […]

Libuše

This rather dyspeptic looking young woman, dressed in all her Art Nouveau finery, is the princess/prophetess Libuše, mythic mother of the Czech nation and founder of Prague. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that Czech nationalism really got going. One of its prime movers was Bedřich Smetana; his opera Libuše and the six tone poems […]

Open my heart and you will see/Grav’d inside of it, “Italy.”

What did holidaymakers do in the halcyon days before the internet, Wi-Fi, smartphones and tablets? They sent one another postcards, of course! And before the postcard?? In the 18th/19th century affluent young gentlemen and (rarely) ladies were packed off to do the Grand Tour; sent traipsing around Europe in the fond hope that – rather […]

The Overture to the Theatre Pension Fund

Victor Hugo’s play Ruy Blas is about a slave who falls in love with the queen of Spain; the feeling is reciprocated, but the story – inevitably – ends in tragedy. Mendelssohn didn’t like the play; and, when the Leipzig Theatre attempted to commission music for a benefit performance (for the theatre pension fund) of the work, he turned […]