'The Secret,' by Bedrich Smetana
The power of nationalism has been a driving force in music for centuries, and the national sentiments of a broad spectrum of countries have inspired a world of great music.
One example is Finland, which has a home-bred, musical tradition embodied by one of the most famous works ever composed — "Finlandia" by Sibelius.
There was also a striking nationalist trend in the music of 19th-century Russia. We can still hear it in the world's opera houses — in the works of Glinka, who wrote a drama called A Life for the Tsar, and in the historical epics of Borodin and Mussorgsky.
And while the word "Bohemian" has come to have a number of meanings, it certainly describes one of music's strongest nationalistic currents — one that was especially evident in the works of Czech composers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Dvorak, Martinu and Janacek all wrote music steeped in the culture and traditions of their homeland, creating instrumental works brimming with the spirit and color of folk tunes, and songs and operas with a rhythmic energy springing directly from the unique cadences of the Czech language.
Still, when it comes to Czech musical nationalism, there's one composer in particular who played a vital role in getting the trend started, in the mid 1800's — Bedrich Smetana. His most famous composition is almost surely the orchestral masterpiece, "The Moldau." It's part of a set of 7 tone poems called "Ma Vlast" — or "My Country" — and magically evokes the convergence of many small streams, joining to form the powerful river that flows through Prague.
But Smetana displayed his love for Czech traditions even more vividly in the opera house. The most familiar of his 8 operas is the comedy The Bartered Bride, set in a small Czech village. Smetana used similar settings for a number of other operas, including a charmer called The Secret. Its story revolves around a hidden treasure — and the score is heard so rarely that the opera has become a sort of hidden treasure, as well.
On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Smetana's The Secret in a production that comes to us straight from the source, the Prague National Theatre, built in 1883 in a place that has come to symbolize the composer's national pride, on the banks of the Moldau River itself.
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