Bedřich Smetana: Blaník
Composed as part of Má vlast (My Homeland), Blaník is the sixth 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. Blaník refers to the mountain with the same name, which legend says that an army of knights, led by St. Wenceslas, sleep there.
Blaník was completed in March 1879, and was subsequently premiered on January 4th 1880. This movement is the last in the set making up Ma vlast. The music depicts the sleeping knights, their quick awakening, and how they help the country in its gravest hour.
The opening of Blaník takes over with bold brass statements. This was left unfinished in the previous movement, and now feels like it is about to continue after the battle. This implies that the final two movements are cohesive, similarly to the opening two movements. They are cohesive both musically and thematically.
The Hussite hymn is heard throughout Blaník, which further cements the musical relationship between these two movements of music. Smetana, similarly to the other five movement of Ma vlast, utilises all areas of the orchestra, with the winds leading on some of the most serene moments of the movement. Smetana intertwines the horns here too, as well as using them for representing war and heroism.
The use of both the Hussite theme plus other traditional Czech folk tunes makes Blaník a true representation of Smetana’s heritage and culture. The mix of harmonies paired with the masterful orchestrations makes this final movement one of the most moving in terms of nationalism.
The music unites to play a celebratory section, which refers to the victorious rise of the Czech state. As the music explodes with excitement, fizzing upper strings create intensity and drama with their high pitched tremolos. The percussion again accentuate the atmosphere here with loud crashes and piercing triangle rings.
The brass interrupt with another fanfare before the music slows right down into a bold and royal-sounding section before the music takes off once more. Blaník comes to its thrilling end with shimmering strings and the most epic brass fanfare of all six movements. Two more strikes from the orchestra end Smetana’s most-loved suite of music.
Throughout Bedřich Smetana’s Ma vlast, the audience will experience six incredible stories. Starting at the castle of Vyšehrad, the music speaks of a castle in ruins. Vltava is based around the movement of water and the journey the Vltava river takes. These first two movements are linked loosely by themes. Smetana writes that part of Vltava shows the water going past the ruins of the Vyšehrad castle.
The third movement, Šárka, is based on the Czech legends of The Madien’s War. Based around themes of war and women, this is one of the most musically exciting movements. The fourth, Z českých luhů a hájů, focuses on some of Smetana’s favourite Bohemian landscapes. This movement is the least programmatic, and is based more on the senses, memories and dreams.
The final two movements are also intertwined. The fifth movement, Tábor, is based around the writings of the Hussite wars. Tábor was the city that the Hussites used as their base when the wars broke out. This movement is left feeling unfinished, that is until the sixth and final movement begins. Starting when the previous left off, Blaník finishes the idea of war by showing the knights fighting for their country in their darkest hour. The suite ends triumphantly, with the Czech’s coming out on top in glorious style.
“So that finally with Him, you will always be victorious.”
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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