The Return of Music Masters to Smetana Hall

With a program featuring the great Carmen and Rusalka by Dvořák, Smetana, Vivaldi, Bizet and Rossini, this classical music concert at Prague's beloved Municipal House Obecní dum is sure to set you to return for more.

Antonín Dvořák

Antonin Dvorak is considered to be one of the most well‐known and prominent Czechs in the world, as his musical work gained international recognition already during his lifetime. He was born in 1841 in a small Czech village into a butcher’s family. At the age of 6, Dvorak started taking violin lessons and it immediately became obvious that the boy had exceptional talent in music. Later in life, he was learning to master piano and organ as well as simultaneously working in a slaughterhouse. After Dvorak turned 16, he was admitted to the Organ School in Prague that trained future professional composers. After graduating, he stayed in Prague, joined Karel Komzak’s orchestra and started actively composing his own music. However, he struggled to make ends meet and always had to work on the side by playing music in churches and giving private music lessons.
Finally, 1874 became a turning point in his life when he won a financial grant from an Austrian Prize competition for his 15 submitted works. This allowed him to quit the orchestra and devote himself fully to composing. During this period, he wrote his Slavonic Dances, Moravian Duets and Violin Concerto, which brought him sweeping success. In 1892 he was invited to teach at the New York National Conservatory, where he stayed until 1895 before returning home. He started teaching at the Prague conservatory and later became its director. Until his death in 1904, he had been a successful and well‐loved composer, both in his homeland and around the whole world.

Bedrich Smetana

Bedrich Smetana is regarded as the father of Czech classical music, most known for his symphonic cycle My Homeland and opera The Bartered Bride. He was born in 1824 in Litomyšl, a town in Bohemia. Since childhood, Bedrich Smetana developed an affection for folk music and songs, which can be traced in his oeuvre. His father also played in a string quartet and taught young Bedrich to play the violin. However, the son preferred the piano and gave his first piano performance when he was only 6 years old. In 1943 Smetana set off to Prague where he attended the Prague Music Institute and became acquainted with Prague’s music life by attending numerous classical concerts. Back then he said: “…I shall one day be a Liszt in technique and a Mozart in composition!”. In 1848 he opened a private music school, which became very popular, especially among Czech nationalists – a movement that was thriving that year. Smetana was supporting the movement and wrote a few patriotic works, including two marches dedicated to the Citizens’ Army.
However, the 1850’s were sorrowful years for the composer. He lost his three daughters, his wife was severely ill and the critics were giving unflattering reviews on his music. In 1856 he decided to start a new life in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he opened another music school, worked as a conductor of the Society for Classical Music and gained professional recognition. In his homeland, Smetana’s talent was finally acknowledged only in 1866 with the release of his opera 'The Brandenburgers'. Since then, his career saw ups and downs but reached its glorious peak when the public first heard his symphonic circle 'Ma Vlast', which Smetana composed despite becoming deaf.

Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi went down in history as a creator of the instrumental concert genre and the father of orchestral music. He was born in Venice on the 4th of March 1678. Vivaldi was a weak and sickly child suffering from asthma, however could not stop him from devoting himself completely to music. His father, Giovanni Batista a professional violinist, taught his elder son Antonio to play the violin. With his father young Antonio met the best musicians of Venice of that time and gave concerts in local churches. He also worked as a violin teacher and later as a music director at the orphanage Ospedalle della Pieta. Meanwhile he composed concertos, sacred works and vocal music and in 1713 he achieved great recognition with his sacred choral music. Vivaldi got captivated by the world of opera and worked both as opera composer and impresario at the Teatro San Angelo. In 1717 he obtained a prestigious position by the prince court in Manua as a director of secular music and worked there until around 1720. During that time he composed his world‐renowned masterpiece The Four Seasons.

In the 1730's his career dwindled as his music became unfashionable and the great composer died in poverty. It took the world two centuries to rediscover and reevaluate Vivaldi’s music, as it was buried into oblivion after his death. In the early 20th century many previously unknown works were found and immediately captured the hearts of the music lovers.

Georges Bizet

Georges Bizet devoted his relatively short life of 36 years to the musical theatre. The opera Carmen, pearl of his oeuvre, is still one of the most frequently performed operas in the world. He was born in 1838 into a musically educated family – his father was a singing teacher and his mother a professional piano player. At the age of 4, young George could already read notes and play the piano, and six years later he became enrolled at the Paris Conservatory. After finishing his studies, Bizet won the prestigious Prix de Rome for his cantata Clovis et Clotilde, that allowed him to work solely on his own compositions for five years. He spent four rather carefree years in Italy from 1857 to 1860 where he travelled, composed and developed his talent. After coming back to Paris, he faced struggles and found it very difficult to achieve recognition for his music. In order to make a living, he gave private lessons, composed light entertaining music and made arrangements of piano works by other composers. In fact, he could have easily become a successful pianist as he was a virtuoso piano player and once impressed Franz Liszt himself with the performance of one of Liszt’s piano compositions. But Georges Bizet did not look for a way to make easy money and was adamant about his intention to only compose music.

In 1872 he wrote two operas, Djamileh and L’Arlesienne, which were received very coldly but now are considered to be a representation of Bizet’s artistic maturity. Soon before his death in 1875, Carmen premiered in the Opera Comique, but the audience’s verdict was rather negative. Never having witnessed public acclaim during his life, George Bizet now is one of the most famous opera composers in history.

Gioachino Rossini

Gioachino Rossini was an Italian composer of the 19th century. He made his debut at the age of 18 and soon became one the most popular opera composer in history. His best known operas are The Barber of Seville Il barbiere di Siviglia, The Italian Girl in Algiers L'italiana in Algeri, and Cinderella La Cenerentola. In general, his style can be defined as song‐like melodic which earned him the nickname of 'the Italian Mozart”. Later on he became famous for his exciting buildup of orchestral sound over a repeated phrase, which is now known as a 'Rossini crescendo”.

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