APM: Composers Datebook

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May 15, 2019 On today’s date in 1868, the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana helped lay the foundation stone for Prague’s future National Theatre. As the stone was driven into the soil with a ceremonial mallet, Smetana exclaimed, “In music is the life of the Czechs!” That same evening at Prague's New Town Theatre Smetana conducted the premiere performance of his new opera “Dalibor.” It’s worthy of note that one of the players in the orchestra was a 26-year old violist and fellow composer named Antonin Dvorak. The subject matter of “Dalibor” seemed theatrically apt for the occasion: a Czech legend about a rebellious 15th century knight imprisoned for supporting a peasant uprising. During his imprisonment, according to the legend, Dalibor learned to play the violin so beautifully that people came to listen to him outside the window of the Prague Castle tower in which he was held. Thirteen years after the premiere of “Dalibor,” the National Theatre opened on June 11, 1881. For that gala occasion, another Smetana opera, “Libuse,” received its premiere performance. Sadly, by that time Smetana was completely deaf, mentally ailing, and desperately poor. To add insult to injury, the directors of the new theater had neglected to invite him to the gala premiere of his own opera! Despite the inexcusable snub, Smetana found his way into the theater, and, when called on the stage and recognized by the audience, was acknowledged with thunderous applause.

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