The Moldau/Vltava

The Moldau (German name) by Bedrich Smetana

Also known as The Vltava

(Czech name – pronounced Vul-ta-va)

This piece of orchestral music is about a famous river in the Czech Republic and was written some time between 1874 and 1879.

It begins as two small streams (two flutes play these streams) that come from springs in the mountains of Bohemia. They playfully babble down the mountainside until they meet and form a larger stream.

This stream grows into a small river which begins to flow on a more steady course. This is where the main tune/melody begins.

The river grows as it winds its way through the meadows and woods, passing a farmer’s wedding dance (polka) and mermaids dancing serenely in the moonlight. Rocks loom as the widening river passes castles and palaces, grand and ruined alike.

Swirling through the St John’s rapids, the Vltava widens to pass through the great city of Prague and the Vyšehrad fortress. Disappearing into the distance, it joins the Elbe and, moving through Germany, finally reaches the sea.

Bedřich Smetana

Born March 2, 1824, Leitomischl, Bohemia, Austrian Empire [now Litomyšl, Czech Republic]

Died May 12, 1884, Prague

Smetana was a Bohemian composer and founder of the Czech national school of music. He was the first truly important Bohemian nationalist composer.

Smetana studied music under his father, an amateur violinist. At a young age, he took up piano under a professional teacher and performed in public at the age of six.

He continued his studies and later became a music teacher.

In 1856, at the age of 32, he wrote his first music for orchestra.

He became totally deaf in late 1874, but between that year and 1879 he wrote the cycle of six symphonic poems which includes Vltava (The Moldau).

Smetana had been, from early in life, a virtuoso performer on the piano, and for many years most of his works were composed for it.

Following ill health, Smetana entered an asylum at Prague and died there.