Bedřich Smetana Macbeth and the Witches, Poetic Polkas op. 8, A Treasure of Melodies, Concert Etude in C Major, Sonata in G Minor

Jitka Čechová piano


The morning piano recital is dedicated to the founding father of Czech national music, Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884). Most of his intensive work on piano pieces took place at the beginning of his career as a composer, but despite that, Smetana’s piano compositions occupy an exclusive position in his work. They undoubtedly rank among the best that 19th century Czech music has given to the world. Playing at the concert is Jitka Čechová, a recognized performer of Smetana’s music, who has recorded his complete works on CD.

Smetana wrote the majority of works featured in this concert programme in the 1850s, the last of them being Macbeth and the Witches, which is from 1859. Even though it is basically a sketch, and it is unclear as to whether it was actually supposed to have been the basis of an orchestral composition, it is one of Smetana’s most impressive piano pieces. The work is inspired by the first scene of the 4th act of Shakespeare´s tragedy Macbeth, where the famous witches make a dramatic appearance. Smetana narrated the whole scene within a very short time frame with masterful skill and unusual inventiveness. The “sketch” contained some unfinished parts which have been added by various interpreters of the piece in the past (e.g. Václav Štěpán), and even though Smetana probably didn´t intend the work to be only for the piano, it is one of the most frequently played piano compositions.

Poetic Polkas op. 8 was created between 1844 and 1845, at a similar time as Polkas de Salon. Smetana knew Frédéric Chopin’s interpretations of polonaises and mazurkas very well and was inspired by them to create Czech polkas. Poetic Polkas are excellent compositions whose stylization is as remarkable as those of Chopin or Liszt; the works are radiant with the joy of living.

1850’s A Treasure of Melodies is an instructive composition which Smetana wrote for the needs of his pedagogical activities. Despite that, this charming work is used a lot more as a concert piece than as a teaching aid.

The concert work Etude in C major was inspired by Smetana’s impressions from listening to pianist Ingeborg Starck play. Smetana composed the etude in 1858 and it has survived in two versions. This very demanding composition is one of the foremost works of the etude genre of Czech piano literature.

Sonata in G minor is an early work by Smetana. It was created in 1846, in the period when Smetana was studying composition with Prague music teacher Joseph Proksch and was simultaneously a music teacher himself in the family of Earl Leopold Thun-Hohenstein. Even though it remained the only piano sonata in the composer´s oeuvre and Smetana was simply trying out the principles of the sonata form, it is a piece which is in many ways a predecessor to the composer´s most important works.

Jiří Zahrádka