Smetana: Má vlast (My Country) III: Tábor and Blaník

The fifth and sixth works in Bedřich Smetana’s symphonic cycle Má vlast: ideological stronghold of religious nationalism and legendary mountain.

Tábor is a city in southern Bohemia named after Mount Tabor, which is believed by many to be the place of the Transfiguration of Christ. Smetana commemorates the Hussite Wars of the 15th century when the city flourished as an egalitarian peasant commune. “From their stronghold the Czech Protestants, persuaded by the truth of their beliefs, drive back their enemies.” Smetana quotes the Hussite battle-hymn “Ye Who Are Warriors of God” symbolising their uncompromising resistance and recalling an era of Bohemia’s power and greatness.

Blaník is named for the mountain inside which legend says a huge army of knights sleep, led by St. Wenceslas, 10th century Duke of Bohemia. The knights will awake and help the country in its gravest hour (sometimes described as four hostile armies attacking from all points of the compass). Musically, Blaník begins exactly as Tábor ends, “hammering” out the motto which was left unresolved, but now continuing on, as if in the aftermath of the battle. At the end the Hussite chorale from Tábor is combined with the opening theme of Vyšehrad – representing the triumph of a resurrected people and their future happiness and glory.

In 1948 the great Czech conductor Rafael Kubelík (right) exiled himself from his homeland vowing not to return until his country was liberated from Soviet rule. “I had lived through one form of bestial tyranny, Nazism,” he told an interviewer, “as a matter of principle I was not going to live through another.” The fall of Communism in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution allowed Kubelík to accept an invitation in 1990 to return to Czechoslovakia to conduct the Czech Philharmonic at the Prague Spring Festival. The concert was recorded live. Rafael Kubelík died in 1996. Fittingly, his ashes were interred next to the grave of his father (the violinist Jan Kubelík) in Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague.

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