Bedřich Smetana: Tábor
Composed as part of Má vlast (My Homeland), Tábor is the fifth work of a set of six symphonic poems by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. The poems were composed between 1874-1879. Although now often performed as a single work in six movements, Smetana conceived them all as individual pieces. Each work had their own premieres between 1875-1880 and the first premiere of the whole set took place in 1882.
Each poem depicts an aspect of Smetana’s homeland, the countryside, the sights and legends of Bohemia. Every poem combines nationalistic ideas, such as folk tunes, and the symphonic form, which was pioneered by Franz Liszt not too long before. Tábor refers to the city located in the south of Bohemia.
Tábor was completed on the 13th December 1878, and received its premiere on the 4th January 1880. The southern Bohemian city of Tábor was founded by the Hussites – a pre-Protestant Christian movement – who used the city as their base during the Hussite wars.
The main theme of Tábor is taken from the first two lines of the Hussite hymn Ktož jsú boží bojovníci (Ye Who Are Warriors of God). Tábor opens with a foreboding drone played by the lower strings. The horns come in and out of the texture to play the opening theme. The atmosphere is dark and mysterious. The orchestra begin to enter the mix, with all instruments playing in their lower ranges.
The texture becomes richer as more strings and lower winds enter. A blast from the brass plunges the music into a much bolder section. As the brass proclaim the hymn’s theme, the timpani responds. The theme is then taken by the winds and strings as the music is led into another mysterious section.
The music in Tábor represents the different characters within the city. From the light-hearted to the serious and dangerous aspects, the music quickly changes mood without warning in Tábor. Smetana’s writing for brass is once again exploited in this explosive fifth movement as trumpets and trombones lead the way in disrupting the peace. The interlocking rhythms around the orchestra create a buzz that is further accentuated by the bold brass and shimmering winds.
The theme is brought back throughout the piece, with it being utilised by different parts of the orchestra. The end of Tábor sees the brass and strings go ahead on with the theme as they start a call and response sequence. This goes on for a while, with the timpani and winds embellishing various fragments of the dialogue. The piece comes to a close with the brass having the final verse of the hymn.
Firmly rooted in the simple crotchet hymn theme, Tábor is a dynamic work that sees the orchestra communicate in a variety of ways. Smetana’s orchestrations shine in this movement, with his keen ability to write for brass also being at the forefront.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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