February 27, 2016 7:30 PM
Morrison High School Auditorum Morrison, IL
Smetana: Bartered Bride Overture
Beethoven: Romance No 2
in F major, Op 50
Cody Lund, violin
Bizet: Carmen Suite No 1
Les dragons d'Alcala
Brahms: Symphony No 4
in E minor, Op 98
Allegro non troppo
Allegro energico e passionato
Bedřich Smetana: Overture to The Bartered Bride
Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) was a musician with talent praised by none other than the great Franz Liszt, who, in self-imposed exile from his native Bohemia, taught music and composition in Göteberg, Sweden. Like other Bohemian artists and musicians, Smetana longed for the day when his native land would be free from the yoke of its German masters. After the Austro-Hungarian Empire granted political sovereignty to Bohemia, Smetana and other Czech exiles returned to their homeland in great numbers with one determined priority - to create a national cultural idenity for the self-governing provinces. He and other native composers and musicians hoped to break the hold that German traditions had placed on the region's artistic life.
Once he had established himself in Prague, Smetana helped to create the first Czech national theater, and it was here that his first opera The Brandenburgers in Bohemia was produced in 1866. It was an immediate success, and Smetana followed it with another opera in May of the same year, The Bartered Bride. These two operas established Smetana as the harbinger of a distinctly Czech music which he continued to foster with the composition and production of several other operas on Bohemian themes - Dalibor, The Kiss, and The Devil's Wall, for examples.
Smetana had begun making musical sketches for his comic opera as early as October 1862 when he noted down sixteen bars which later became the theme of The Bartered Bride's opening chorus. The following year he sketched eight bars which made their way into the love duet Faithful Love Can't Be Ruined, and the theme of the comic aria We'll Make a Pretty LittleThing. Uncharacteristically for Smetana, he composed a piano version of the entire overture for the opera before the opera itself was completed. He offered this version to the Prague public in a performance in November 1863.
The composer had commissioned a libretto from fellow countryman Karel Sabina, but the librettist was slow in getting his share of the project completed. Smetana himself worked on the opera bit by bit as he was interrupted by other work; thus progress was slow. Other activities consumed much of his time; he was appointed chorus master of the Hlahol Choral Society which required a good deal of continual rehearsal time. He served as the music critic for the local Czech newspaper, and in 1864 he became engrossed in the Shakespeare Festival in Prague, for which he wrote march as well as conducted Hector Berlioz's Romeo et Juliette. It was not until late 1865 that Smetana had a completed piano score for The Bartered Bride, but again circumstances forced him to delay orchestrating the work while he worked on his third opera Dalibor. It was not until after the success of The Brandenburgers in Bohemia in January 1865 that Smetana began seriously to orchestrate his comic opera. The first performance was at the Provisional Theatre in Prague, on May 30, 1866, in a two-act format with spoken dialogue.
Smetana began revising The Bartered Bride as soon as its first performances were complete. The opera reached its final form, after the first act was fashioned into two acts and all the dialogue was replaced by recitative. For his own part, Smetana did not have a high opinion of his opera. It was, he said
...a toy ... composing it was mere child's play...to spite those who accused me of being Wagnerian and incapable of doing anything in a lighter vein.
It was not until it's presentation at the 1892 Vienna Music and Theatre Exhibition that the work garnered wider recognition, particularly and ironically in a German language version. So despite Smetana's disregard for his most popular opera, it has proved to be the most universal of his stage productions.
The Overture to the Bartered Bride is often played as a concert piece independently from the opera and oftentimes accompanlied by several of the dances from the opera proper.
Program selections are subject to change.