A Halloween Scene

Who needs the orange Jack-o-lanterns, plastic spider-webs, and cheap décor that students are taping to their windows and doors in my dorm?  A free and more convincing Halloween scene can be found in the autumn scene outdoors.

My college campus is ready for Halloween.  Dry leaves rustle in the trees and on the ground.  Bad luck cracks zigzag the sidewalks.  Scrawny black cats alternately hover for scraps and dash away in alarm, crossing paths with dozens of doomed students daily.  At night, the new dorm that is under construction exudes the presence of a haunted house.  The glassless windows gape deep black in the dusk, and sheets of plastic fly loose from the plywood frame, rustling, whispering, and flapping in the wind as I walk by at night.  Bony trees finger the sky, the final tatters of leaves barely clinging on.  Dark grey clouds smother the fat half-moon and splash the sky with dark and light blotches like a predator’s pelt.  Spiders encroach on classrooms and dorm rooms, prowling on the floor or skittering across notebooks and desks.

The real Halloween scene is all around me, not confined to dangling Kleenex-like ghosts or strings of plastic eyeball lights.


Combined and described, these scenes create one creepy and doubtful compilation.  Yet, I have actually observed all these animals, objects, sights, and sounds over the course of my month back at college.  When I realized how all these observations reminded me of Halloween, I decided to describe them and spin them all together into one unified scene.  In spite of the picture I have been able to paint with these moments of reality, I am the first to admit that my campus is in fact quite pretty and welcoming, and the spiders are really the only part of the Halloween scene that has given me the creeps.

Advertisements

A Roman Wedding in One Act

Cast of Characters:

Silvius—Heir of the house of Valerius, a rich Roman family

Gaius—Friend of Silvius

Aurelius—The paterfamilias of the Aureli home

Jullina—Aurelius’ wife

Aurelia—Aurelius’ daughter

Nomenclature of Aurelius

Act I

Scene 1:  The light of early morning is peeping over the rooftops of the houses that crown the Caelian Hill of Rome, tinging the roofs in gold and the shadows in gray. Clients are already gathering in the vestibulium of the house of Aureli.  Silvius is about to enter when a friend on the street recognizes him.

Gaius:  Good morning, Silvius!  What brings you here?

Silvius:  Some personal business with Aurelius.

Gaius (with a wink):  Not in debt with him, I hope?

Silvius (seriously):  No, I’m here to ask for his daughter in marriage.

Gaius:  Well, you’re a rich, promising gentleman!  You deserve Aurelia, and I bet her father will think the same.  The gods be with you.  Bring your news to the Campus Martius this afternoon.  I’ll be there.  (Silvius looks embarrassed.)  Is anything wrong?

Silvius:  Whenever I have visited Aurelius before, he never seems to remember me!  He always consults his lurking nomenclature when I show my face in the atrium.

Gaius (waving his hand dismissively):  Oh, I doubt he cares what his future son-in-law’s name is as long as it’s that of a rich aristocrat.  Can’t wait to hear your happy announcement!

(Gaius exits, leaving Silvius pacing in the vestibulium.)

 

Scene 2:  Silvius enters the atrium where Aurelius sits with his nomenclature standing next to him.

Aurelius (aside to nomenclature):  Who is that man?  He looks familiar.  Is his name Julius?

Nomenclature:  No, sir.  It’s Silvius Valerius.

Aurelius (sotto voce):  Oh, yes!

Aurelius (aloud):  Silvius, welcome!  What business brings you here?  Not debts, I think!  (laughs heartily, for the Valerius family is famously rich)

Silvius:  I’m here to sign a contract with you.  I would like to marry your daughter Aurelia.

Aurelius:  I could not find a happier choice in a son-in-law.  You have my happy blessing, Julius—

Nomenclature (in an urgent whisper):  Silvius!  His name is Silvius, sir!

Aurelius (turns slightly red and clears his throat):  That is Silvius.  Lapsus linguae!

(Silvius does not appear convinced, but he does look happy as he and Aurelius bid farewell.)

 

Scene 3:  Jullina prepares Aurelia for the wedding.

Jullina:  Today is the day!  The omens are favorable, and all is prepared.  You look beautiful, Aurelia.

Aurelia (smiles):  Thank you, mother.

Jullina (placing the flame-colored wedding veil on Aurelia’s head):  The perfect color for you, my beautiful daughter!

(Jullina and Aurelia embrace affectionately.  The noise in the house grows louder.)

Jullina:  We must go down.  Silvius will be here soon.

(They exit.)

 

Scene 4:  A crowd waits outside Silvius’ new house as Silvius and Aurelia complete the wedding ceremony inside and light their hearthfire.  At last, they emerge into the sunlight, smiling.

Silvius: Thank you for sharing in our joy, friends.

Gaius (yells from the crowd): I was right!

(Silvius smiles and winks at Gaius as everyone else becomes distracted.  Too late, Gaius sees the wedding torch Aurelia tossed.  It knocks him down, but a moment later he pops up, torch in hand and grinning.)

Silvius (mouths to Gaius): You’re next.

Gaius: Hope you’re as right as I was!

(The End.  Curtain falls.)

“High Flight,” or “A Squirrel’s Sonnet”

 

Oh, I have skipped the grasses green and sailed between

Tree boughs which bounce and wildly spring beneath

My little nimble paws, and then I lean

And crouch, and sail again, leaving a wreath

Of falling leaves to crown the distant ground.

Oh, I have played a year of hours and days

With my comrades, till we have curled and wound

Above, below, through every tree and maze.

Oh, I have scampered, scuffled, skipped through

Each tree and leaf and hill and stuck my nose

Down holes, till summer’s old and autumn new,

And then I gather nuts the fall wind blows.

But when the winter comes, I eat and sleep

Until spring shines:  then I shall dance and leap.

Poems for All Nations: Part IV

This week, Caroline Bennett concludes her four part research paper on the symphonic poem cycle Ma Vlást composed by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana.

Vyšehrad
Vyšehrad

The premiere performance of all six symphonic poems in Ma Vlást was on November 5, 1882, in Prague. It was conducted by a close friend and associate of Smetana’s, Adolf Čech.[1] The premiere of Ma Vlást came at an opportune time, as Czech nationalism was gaining momentum with each passing year. In addition, Smetana’s audience was becoming more accustomed to and accepting of his Wagner-like sound and thus enthusiastically applauded the richly textured and beautifully orchestrated Ma Vlást. Though Smetana could not hear the performance, he was extremely pleased by both the attitude of the orchestra as well as the approval of the audience. He wrote to Čech shortly after that:

Adolf Cech
Adolf Čech

“I saw that the achievements of the players were realizing my dreams to perfection and that you were leading them…You gave me back my confidence that the mysterious sounds in the innermost depths of my heart will again make themselves heard.”[2]

Smetana was not the only critical listener pleased by Ma Vlást. Eduard Hanslick, a prominent music critic, was also delighted by Smetana’s ode to Czech life and culture. This is rather surprising since Hanslick, although a Czech, was very much a German nationalist. Accordingly, in his review, Hanslick twisted Smetana’s purpose for the piece to be nationalistic to Germany through constant references to German writings or people.[3] Hanslick recognized that Smetana was attempting to inspire his Czech audience to be patriots, but did his best to dismiss this important aspect of the piece.[4] As a result, Hanslick unintentionally revealed how poignant and applicable Ma Vlást is to people of all nationalities and ethnicities. The overarching story of the cycle—one of love for home and a desire for freedom—are themes that transcend time and space. In addition, all audiences have an appreciation for beauty, and it is clear throughout Ma Vlást, but especially in Vltava, that Smetana’s symphonic poem cycle is a masterpiece.

Without a doubt, Smetana was devoted to establishing and creating Czech music that could compare with the music of other European countries like Germany and France.[5] Czech musicologist Vladimir Helfert, however, notes that,

Smetana
Bedřich Smetana

“…Smetana is not a figure wholly limited by the boundaries of his own country. He belongs to the art of the whole world, for his works have worth for all humanity. His idea of nation and country does not rest upon mere jingoism or racial hatred, but on respect for the culture of others and on a positive and kindly love for all mankind. Here we come upon a trait which is deeply rooted in the Slavonic soul, as is shown by the names of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy: it was because Smetana loved mankind that he also loved his own nation.”[6]

Smetana was a well-rounded composer who was inspired by the music and society he experienced throughout his life, first through his study of the music fundamentals and later through his sojourn in Sweden. He desired to create distinctly Czech music, but was unafraid to use elements from other countries, as demonstrated by the main theme in Vltava. And though his main goal with Ma Vlást was to celebrate his beloved homeland and inspire other Czechs, Smetana understood that his music was not just to be appreciated by his countrymen, but also by audiences all over the world. Its beauty and power have ensured that Ma Vlást has become a staple in the classical music world, and promises to remain so for many years to come.

Footnotes

[1] Bartos, Letters, 267.

[2] Ibid., 268.

[3] David Brodbeck, “Hanslick’s Smetana and Hanslick’s Prague,” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 134, no. 1 (2009): 29-30, accessed September 20, 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40783129.

[4] Brodbeck, “Hanslick’s Smetana,” 27.

[5] John Clapham, “Smetana: A Century After,” The Musical Times 125, no. 1694 (April 1984), 4, accessed September 20, 2015, doi: 10.2307/963564.

[6] Helfert, “Bedřich Smetana,” 14-15.

Bibliography

Bartos, Frantisek. Bedřich Smetana: Letters and Reminiscences. Translated by Daphne Rusbridge. Prague: Artia, 1955.

Brodbeck, David. “Hanslick’s Smetana and Hanslick’s Prague.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 134, no. 1 (2009), 1-36. Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40783129.

Brown, Jim. “The Role of Folk Consciousness in the Modern State: Its Efficacy, Use and Abuse.” Storytelling, Self, Society 6, no. 1 Special Issue: Bhutan National Storytelling Conference (January-April 2010), 39-57. Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41949039.

Clapham, John. “Bedřich Smetana.” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1980. xvii: 391-408.

———. Master Musician: Smetana. London: J. M. Dent & Sons LTD, 1972.

———. “Smetana: A Century After.” The Musical Times 125, no. 1694 (April 1984), 201-205. Accessed September 20, 2015. doi: 10.2307/963564.

Dowling, Maria. Czechoslovakia. London: Arnold, 2002.

G. A. “Review of Smetana by John Clapham.” Music & Letters 54, no. 1 (January 1973), 85-86. Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/734179.

Helfert, Vladimir. “Bedřich Smetana.” The Slavonic Review 3, no. 7 (June 1924), 141-155. Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4201826.

Large, Brian. Smetana. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970.

Newmarch, Rosa. The Music of Czechoslovakia. Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1942.

Smetana, Bedřich. “Vltava.” In Má Vlast. Leipzig: Eulenburg, 1914.

 

Counting Every Word

Scrutinizing my computer screen, I read another sentence aloud.  I heaved a sigh.  None of the words seemed superfluous; I felt like I had trimmed off every spare word I could without weakening my essay.  I continued reading the paper, wondering how I was ever going to get my word count below my professor’s limit of 500 words.

Picture me at ten or eleven o’ clock at night going through this exact same routine once a week for eight weeks, and you will have an idea of my experiences while taking a course on American history this past spring.  I have a problem most students would envy.  I struggle with word count rules, not because I have trouble reaching the minimum, but because I always overshoot the mark—usually by a lot.  No matter how much I curbed myself as I typed my rough drafts, I always had too many thoughts, too much supporting material, and too many quotes I wanted to include.  Most of the essays were about American war novels, each of which was full of important and interesting information that I felt I needed to mention if I was going to write a thorough paper.  I also needed to include as much historical context and analysis as possible to satisfy my teacher.

While my professor’s word count rule felt constricting and chafed against my urge to write more, the limitation challenged me to become a better writer.  Because of this restriction, I had to make every word count, to reexamine how I organized my paper and structured my sentences.  I experienced what every child hates:  that frustrating time when your parents tell you, “Do it.  It’ll be good for you.”  Except this time, I was the one having to remind myself of the advantages of this word count rule while simultaneously becoming annoyed with it.  I was trying to see the bright side of the matter as I attempted to find another 20 words to excise.  Facing character-building challenges is so frustrating.

Character Building C&H

In the end, somehow, I always managed to chop the paper down to size without making it sound like Procrustes had gotten to it.  And now the ordeal is over, I am able to fully appreciate how it challenged me.  Writing those essays helped me spend my words wisely and more thoughtfully than I would have otherwise.  As I worked my paper down to 500 words, I felt like I was condensing it into something stronger, boiling out excess material and making it more potent in the process.  My success each time also encouraged and continues to encourage me, reminding me that I can overcome writing obstacles, even when they prove to be extremely challenging.

I have to admit that oftentimes as I worked on those history essays, I wished for 750 or 1000 words to work with.  (I’m guessing that desire was really strong on the papers that ended up 499 or exactly 500 words long).  However, as I think about that wish now, I can see the long paper being a different but equally demanding sort of challenge as the short one.  Would the paper have been as powerful?  Would I have wasted time and ink on insignificant words, quotes, or ideas?  Would I have been able to make every word count in that long of a paper?  Perhaps that should be my next challenge.  Maybe we writers would all benefit from counting every word.

Poems for All Nations: Part III

In part three of her research paper about Czech composer Smetana and his work Ma Vlást, Caroline Bennett has at last reached my favorite part of the composition: the second movement known as Die Moldau.  If you’re just joining us, here are Part I and Part II of the paper.

Kniha "VLTAVA - Libor Sváček" - vydání 1., rok 2011
The Vltava (known in German as Die Moldau) River flows into the Elbe

The second movement of Ma Vlást is perhaps the most well-known of all. This is not only due to its intricate orchestration, but also because its subject is that of the Czechs’ most beloved river. Though commonly called by the German name Die Moldau, the Czech name of the river is the Vltava.[1] Smetana was likely inspired to write about the Vltava when he visited the Šumava valley in 1867, and saw the two streams that join and eventually become the sweeping river. A friend later wrote that it was there that Smetana “heard the gentle, poetic song of the two streams…and within him sounded the first two chords of the two motives which intertwine and increase and later grow and swell into a mighty melodic stream.”[2]

Without a doubt, Smetana composed effective motives for imitating the flow of water, but there is some dispute over what inspired the main melody of the piece, a rising and falling figure, often played by the strings, that symbolizes the Vltava. The melody bears a strong resemblance to the Swedish folksong “Ack Varmeland, du skona,” as well as to a plethora of central European folksongs.[3] Most striking, however, is its similarity to an Italian piece called “La Mantovana,” which also inspired the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah.” It is impossible to know specifically which of these songs Smetana was thinking of as he wrote Vltava, but regardless, it reveals his familiarity with different musical cultures and his ability to adjust songs to create the perfect melody for his compositions.

Vyšehrad
Vyšehrad

Smetana’s genius for combining melody with story is demonstrated throughout Vltava. In the opening bars, Smetana uses the flutes to imitate the first source of the river by having them play fluttering upward passages. Soon after, the flutes are joined by the clarinets, representing the river’s second source with a downward moving figure.[4] After the main theme is introduced, indicating the joining of the two streams, Smetana depicts the river’s integration into daily Czech life by reflecting a series of images—forests, weddings in the countryside—through an ever changing key center. At first the entire orchestra can be heard, but slowly the volume dies away as instruments drop out. Just when it seems that the instruments will completely fade out, a lively dance is introduced by the strings, as a group of water-nymphs dance in the moonlight by the water.[5] Then, just as suddenly, the key changes to minor and the audience is immersed in only the moonlight and the flowing of the river as it passes by ruined castles from long ago. The echoes of horns are a reminder of the former glory of the castles. The horns crescendo as they reintroduce the main theme, and the instrumental parts divide, signaling that the river enters the St. Johns Rapids. Leaving the rapids behind, the flowing lines of the music return as the Vltava enters a broad stream. Smetana has the river pass by the towering castle Vyšehrad by introducing the “glory” theme previously heard in Vyšehrad.[6] Finally, the music dies away, much like it began, as the Vltava flows into the Elbe river.

[1] Brown, “Folk Consciousness,” 48.

[2] Clapham, Smetana, 108.

[3] Clapham, Smetana, 80.

[4] Ibid., 80.

[5] Bartos, Letters, 264.

[6] John Clapham, “Bedřich Smetana,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1980), xvii: 399.

Photograph of Vltava and Elbe rivers from http://www.visitstrednicechy.cz/en/central-bohemia-the-central-elbe-and-melnik-areas/30/

The Forgotten Norse

In 1898, Olof Ohman was pulling stumps on his Minnesota farm when he encountered a particularly resistant tree.  Digging away at its roots, he found a large 202 pound stone lodged beneath the tree (Holand 97, 100).  The stone was covered in Norse runes.  Little did Ohman realize that his discovery would turn out to be the Kensington Stone, one of many examples of the far-reaching and important effect the ancient Norse had on the world.

When asked to list important world cultures, many people would think of the Greeks and Romans; few people realize the significant effect the Norse had as well.  From books like The Lord of the Rings to everyday words, the Norse influence is evident everywhere.  Understanding how the Norse affected the world is valuable because they impacted civilization by leading the way in exploration, shaping European politics, and influencing culture.

Rollo
Rollo

To begin with, the Norse changed the world through their feats of exploration.  According to maps of the Middle Ages, the area which the Norse settled now includes at least 17 modern day countries (Wiseman).  The Norse tribes had several prominent leaders who led the Norse expansion across Europe, and one of these was Rollo, who founded Normandy in 911 A.D. (Jones 229).  Rollo was the ancestor of William the Conqueror who took over England in 1066.  Two other important Norse explorers were Erik the Red and his son Leif Erikson (Quinn 24-26).  Erik the Red led a group of Norse to settle in Iceland.  From there, Leif sailed even further west to the coast of North America and is credited as the first European to have discovered North America.  While these are the most famous Norse voyages, the existence of the Kensington Stone reveals that the Norse continued their explorations for centuries afterwards.

In addition to accomplishing feats of exploration, the Norse impacted European politics and government.  According to Winston Churchill in The Birth of Britain, two Norse leaders ruled England and established dynasties there (Churchill 140, 167).  The Norse played an important role in the history of other dynasties, as well.  For example, a Norse tribe called the Varangians settled in the eastern part of modern day Russia, and their leader Rurik established the Kievan Rus dynasty, which eventually ruled all of Russia (“Rurik”).  Another way in which the Norse shaped government was by introducing new forms of government.

Althing
Thingvellir, Iceland, where the first Althing met

The Norse in Iceland established the first parliament in the world, called the Althing (“Althing”; Derry 33), and the Norse also contributed to the development of the Russian city of Novgorod, which was Russia’s first and only republic and a major trading center in the Middle Ages (Marumu).

By beginning dynasties, conquering countries, and establishing new forms of government, the Norse clearly affected the world.  Not only did they lead the way in exploration and shape nations, though; the Norse also affected culture.  First_Single_Volume_Edition_of_The_Lord_of_the_RingsAccording to language professors Elaine Treharne and A. A. Sokolsky, the Norse influenced the languages of England and Russia (Treharne 1; Sokolsky 11).  In a news article, BBC reporter Jayne Lutwyche explained that the origins of the English names for six of the days of the week are Norse.  For example, Wednesday is derived from “Wotan’s day,” and Thursday comes from “Thor’s day.”  In addition to impacting language, the Norse affected many other aspects of culture.  Norse culture and myths have inspired epic poems like Beowulf, fantasy series like The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, movies like Thor, and television shows like The Vikings and Game of Thrones.

The Norse broke over Europe like a tsunami, spreading far and soon disappearing from the surface, yet in their wake, they left a significant mark on cultural traditions, politics, and exploration.  Their influence is not merely a part of the past, though.  The effect of the Norse continues on in the modern world, for the Norse have inspired feats of exploration that led men to the North Pole, shaped nations that are now major world leaders, and created culture, stories, art, and words that remain in people’s lives today.  Like the Kensington Stone, the Norse impact on the world is often buried beneath the surface and forgotten, but it continues to affect history and can be uncovered in some of the most surprising places.

Works Cited

“Althing.”  Encyclopædia Britannica, 20 Sep. 2016, britannica.com/topic/Althing.

Churchill, Winston.  The Birth of Britain.  Dodd, Mead & Company, 1956.

Derry, T. K.  A History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.  University of Minnesota Press, 1979.

Holand, Hjalmar R.  Norse Discoveries and Explorations in America 982-1362: Leif Erikson to the Kensington Stone.  Dover Publications, 1968.

Jones, Gwyn.  A History of the Vikings.  Oxford University Press, 1968.

Lutwyche, Jayne.  “Why are there seven days in a week?”  BBC, 22 Jan. 2013, bbc.co.uk/religion/0/20394641.

Marumu.  “Brief History of Novgorod in Dates.”  Way to Russia.  4 May 2016, waytorussia.net/CentralRussia/Novgorod/History.html.

Quinn, David B.  North America from Earliest Discovery to First Settlements:  The Norse Voyages to 1612.  Ed. Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris.  Harper & Row Publishers, 1975.

“Rurik.”  Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition.  Literary Reference Center.

Sokolsky, A. A.  A History of the Russian Language.  Imp. Taravilla. Suc. de G. Sáez, 1965.

Treharne, Elaine.  “Legacy of the Vikings.”  BBC, 17 Nov. 2004, bbc.co.uk/history/trail/conquest/after_viking/legacy_vikings_01.shtml.

Wiseman, Howard.  “13 Centuries of the Nordic Peoples.”  ICT Griffith University, 19 Feb. 2010, ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/Nordic/Nordic-13centuries.html.

Poems for All Nations: Part II

This is the second installment in Caroline Bennett’s “Poems for All Nations” research paper on Bedřich Smetana.  To read part one, click here.

1200px-PragueCityscape
Prague, Czech Republic

Bedřich Smetana was born during this tumultuous period in Czech history, on the morning of March 2, 1824. Though he lived in Bohemia, Smetana was essentially raised as a German, and did not speak or write any Czech for much of his life.[1] Smetana’s father, Frantiŝek Smetana, recognized Bedřich’s musical talent from an early age and ensured that his son received an excellent musical education, beginning with the violin at the age of three.[2] By the time Bedřich Smetana was eight he was also playing the piano and singing in a church choir, as well as writing some basic compositions.[3] In order to further his education, Smetana first attended a school in Prague and then moved to the town of Plzeň. It was here that he won renown as an excellent pianist.

Josef Proksch
Josef Proksch

Though he flourished musically, Smetana’s academics suffered due to his busy performance schedule.[4] Smetana eventually chose to drop out of school and pursue a career in music, despite his father’s misgivings. Smetana recorded in his diary on January 23, 1843: “By the grace of God and with his help I shall one day be a Liszt in technique and a Mozart in composition.”[5] Smetana moved back to Prague but quickly realized that he would need more proper musical training if he was to succeed in such a thriving city. Thus, he enrolled in theory lessons with Josef Proksch, one of the finest musicians in Bohemia.[6] While studying with Proksch, Smetana learned how to analyze and imitate the works of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, in addition to emulating more contemporary composers like Berlioz and Liszt.[7] Smetana dedicated himself to his studies with such tenacity that within three years he was ready to strike out on his own for good.[8] Smetana decided to give a brief concert tour in Europe before establishing his own music school in Prague.[9] He continued to devote himself to his compositions, and even wrote to Franz Liszt requesting his aid in publishing what he termed “a sketch.”[10]

Also during this time period, Smetana began displaying his patriotism: when rebellion broke out in Prague on June 11, 1848, Smetana quickly joined a corps and helped man the barricades.[11]

Gothenburgcity
Göteborg

The revolution was stifled like so many before, and Smetana decided to leave Prague for a while and go on a concert tour in Sweden. Though he intended for his visit to Sweden to be brief, he soon found that he was more sought after in Sweden than at home. He remained in Göteborg for many years, performing concerts, teaching piano and voice lessons,[12] and interacting with the social and musical life of the Swedes. It was during his sojourns away from Bohemia that Smetana heard the most recent works of Richard Wagner and fell in love with the way his music told stories and spoke to the emotions of audiences.[13]

Back home, the politics in the Czech lands were changing rapidly. The Austrian government was allowing more of Czech culture to surface, and there was suddenly a revived interest in the Czech language and arts.[14] Smetana quickly recognized an opportunity to establish himself further by developing a national music for Bohemia and the other Czech countries.  He returned to Prague for good in 1861. Smetana immediately set about writing operas in the Czech language to be performed in the newly-established Provisional Theatre.[15] Because of his recent exposure to a thriving musical society in Sweden, Smetana advocated the forming of music groups in and around Prague. He conducted an orchestra,[16] wrote many articles promoting Czech music, and composed for a variety of genres, including the first Czech national opera,[17] pieces for men’s chorus, overtures for puppet plays, and the like.[18] Early in his career Smetana had been indifferent to the fate of Czech culture; now its development and preservation was what he lived for each day.

Sadly, tragedy struck at this most prolific period of Smetana’s life. In 1874, as he was writing the first tone poem in the Ma Vlást collection, Smetana realized that he was losing his hearing.[19] By the end of the year he was completely deaf in both ears. He resigned his position as a conductor, and struggled to continue composing. Smetana’s frustration with his health often strained his relationships with his family and colleagues.[20] Nevertheless, his desire to write music and show his love for his homeland propelled him forward. He wrote to a friend in 1880, “I have tasted the bitterness of life in most abundant measure, as perhaps few others; but I have also experienced beautiful enchanting moments, yes, even sacred moments!”[21] Music was a constant source of joy to Smetana, and he continued his work as a musician until his death in 1884.

Vysehrad_as_seen_over_the_Vltava_from_Cisarska_louka
Vyšehrad

Smetana shares many of his joyful moments with audiences through Ma Vlást. It is both a touching and a thrilling piece, and like many of his compositions it is focused on the Czech lands. Immediately before beginning work on Ma Vlást, Smetana premiered another patriotic composition, the opera Libuše, which greatly influenced the writing of his symphonic poem cycle.[22] The setting for the opera is Vyšehrad, a rock that overlooks Prague, and the first tone poem Smetana wrote for Ma Vlást musically depicted Vyšehrad and the castle that looms over it. It took Smetana about seven years to write all of Ma Vlást, from approximately 1872 to 1879. Most of the movements were premiered separately: Vyšehrad (March 1875), Vltava (April 1875), Ŝárka (1876 or 1877), From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields (October 1875), and both Tábor and Blaník in 1880. When he finally completed and performed all of the tone poems together as a single unit in 1882, his audience recognized that he had written a masterpiece. Ma Vlást is powerful on many levels, and Brian Large notes that it “penetrates the very roots of Czech national feeling by celebrating everything that is dear to the people, their legends, landscapes, history and the prophetic vision of their future.”[23] Smetana recounts ancient Czech legends through the movements Ŝárka, Tábor, and Blaník, its landscapes in Vltava and From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields, and history in Vyšehrad. Each of the movements reminds listeners of where the Czechs came from, and how throughout history they had fought for their homeland and freedom.

[1] Brian Large, Smetana (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), 114.

[2] Ibid., 3-4.

[3] Ibid., 4-5.

[4] Ibid., 12.

[5] Frantisek Bartos, Bedřich Smetana: Letters and Reminiscences, trans. Daphne Rusbridge  (Prague: Artia, 1955), 18.

[6] Large, Smetana, 24.

[7] Ibid., 37.

[8] Vladimir Helfert, “Bedřich Smetana,” The Slavonic Review 3, no. 7 (June 1924), 4, accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4201826.

[9] John Clapham, Master Musician: Smetana (London: J. M. Dent & Sons LTD, 1972), 20.

[10] Bartos, Letters, 25-26.

[11] Clapham, Smetana, 21.

[12] Ibid., 24, 26.

[13] Ibid., 28.

[14] Newmarch, Music of Czechoslovakia, 61.

[15] Clapham, Smetana, 31.

[16] Bartos, Letters, 105.

[17] Jim Brown, “The Role of Folk Consciousness in the Modern State: Its Efficacy, Use and  Abuse,” Storytelling, Self, Society 6, no. 1 Special Issue: Bhutan National Storytelling Conference (January-April 2010): 28, accessed September 20, 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41949039.

[18] Clapham, Smetana, 33-34.

[19] Bartos, Letters, 150-151.

[20] G. A., “Review of Smetana by John Clapham,” Music & Letters 54, no. 1 (January 1973): 3-4, accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/734179.

[21] Bartos, Letters, 210.

[22] Large, Smetana, 262.

[23] Large, Smetana, 259.

Modern Crises and Charity

College brings together the strangest thoughts, ideas, and stories.  Just the other day, I was working on a presentation about the American Dream.  Wanting a nice picture to illustrate my title slide, I decided to look up photos of the Statue of Liberty.  One thing led to another, and I was suddenly thinking about Emma Lazarus’ famous poem.  I could only remember snatches, so I decided to read it again, and when I did so, news stories and recent conversations with Christian friends sprang to mind.

We Americans pride ourselves on being a land of opportunity, welcoming strangers to come and make a better life—or we once did.  That’s what the Statue of Liberty symbolized as it greeted immigrants entering America at Ellis Island.  But now we live in a time where many of us want to refuse safe harbor to others because we see them as a threat.  We want to turn back those masses which we once claimed to welcome.  Lazarus’ poem is very poignant as I read it now.

“The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (Lazarus)

Statue_of_Liberty_7I’m not such an idealist or romantic that I deny the dangers of letting masses of people into our country.  Shutting ourselves off from the world isn’t the answer, though.  Erecting physical and bureaucratic walls and cutting ourselves off won’t keep us safe, for danger and terrorism can arise from inside a country as easily as they can penetrate it from without.

For Christians, I think the answer is somewhere in between the two extremes of keeping refugees out and indiscriminately letting them in.  The Bible calls us to charity and hospitality, to welcoming strangers and loving neighbors.  People seem to forget that the story of the Good Samaritan is about a man who helped a stranger of a different race and religion and in doing so put himself in danger of being attacked by the same robbers who had left the stranger for dead.

God’s Word also calls us to prudence and compassion, to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  This is far easier said than done, but the Bible never claims being a Christian and obeying God is easy.  The Christian life requires discernment, faith, and sacrifice of safety.  Even when people take advantage of charity or return evil for good, these are no excuses for not ministering to those in need.  In Luke 6:29, Jesus commands his disciples, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”  Peter tells the Church, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17).

While “The New Colossus” stems from 19th century American idealism, I think it can be a true wakeup call to modern Americans, especially Christians.  The time has come for us to renew the spirit of generosity that led to the penning of those lines, for if we lose sight of the principles and ideals that form the foundation of our nation, America will weaken and fall.  So, out of our abundance, let us share, let us offer homes to the homeless who seek our help, and let America once again be a land which offers opportunities for the diligent and welcomes refugees as a “Mother of Exiles” (Lazarus 6).

Works Cited

Lazarus, Emma.  “The New Colossus.”  National Park Service, nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/colossus.htm.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, 2001.  Print.

Poems for All Nations: Part I

I am excited to present Caroline Bennett’s latest piece on music as she will be focusing on one of my favorite composers and compositions.  Because it is rather long, the research paper will appear in several installments.  Without further ado, here is part one.

Smetana

“I am not ashamed to reply to you in my mother tongue, however imperfectly, and am glad to be able to show that my fatherland means more to me than anything else.”—Smetana’s second letter written in Czech language, 11 March, 1860 (“Bedrich Smetana Biography”)

In the heart of Europe lies an expanse of land enclosed by low mountains. This expanse is a river basin, with several rivers passing through it and then draining into three different seas. Throughout the rolling hills are forests of towering trees, interspersed with ruined castles that recall days long ago. This region was once known as Bohemia, though it has since become a region of the Czech Republic. The ethereal geography of this land has long inspired poets and musicians, but none more so than Bedřich Smetana, a prominent Czech composer from the 19th century. 1200px-PragueCityscapeLike many other Czechs, Smetana was devoted to his homeland. His love for Czech life and culture is beautifully expressed in his symphonic poem cycle Ma Vlást, which is comprised of a number of tone poems depicting various landmarks and stories. The overarching theme for Ma Vlást is one of freedom, which was a pertinent topic at the time that Smetana wrote, for the Czechs were in the middle of a struggle to break away from the Austrian empire. It has been more than a century since Ma Vlást premiered, but Smetana’s most well-known composition continues to speak to audiences all over the world. He may have originally been writing to praise the loyalty and independence of the Czechs, but people of all times, all nations, and all backgrounds can grasp and appreciate love for one’s homeland and the struggle for freedom. In order to better understand Ma Vlást and its importance in the world, it is essential to know the fundamentals of Czech history, the life of Bedřich Smetana, the composition of Ma Vlást, and the most beloved of Smetana’s works: the symphonic poem Vltava.

Music was a part of Czech culture long before Smetana was born. Rosa Newmarch, an English historian, writes that music was an important part of Czech life extending back to the Roman Empire. As Christianity spread across Europe, a lot of folk music was suppressed because of its origins in pagan ritual. Eventually, however, the church embraced music and ultimately became the primary source of music in the Czech lands for many centuries. Indeed, many of the most beloved Czech songs were written by men of the church, and even sung in services.[1]

Prague_07-2016_Smetana_MuseumSuch hymns became an important part of Czech history. “Ktož jsú boží bojovníci” (translated “Ye Who Are Warriors of God”) was initially used as a war song and later reminded Czechs of their long struggle for freedom.[2] Indeed, another of the reasons religious music was such an important part of Czech culture was the fact that for hundreds of years, the Czechs were struggling to maintain their independence from other empires and countries. As a result, “love-songs, drinking and dancing songs, did not accord with the grim struggles of conscience which then absorbed the Bohemian people.”[3] Unfortunately, the Czechs’ fight for freedom usually failed, and at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the Czech lands became a part of the Hapsburg-Austrian empire. Governed by foreigners for the next two centuries, the Czechs’ faith, language, and music were suppressed.[4] By 1848, however, the Czechs had had enough, and many rebelled against the Austrian government. The Czechs were brutally repressed,[5] but the independent spirit of the Czech people would not be stifled, and as the Austrian government weakened, the beautiful and unique culture of the Czechs returned in full force.

[1] Rosa Newmarch, The Music of Czechoslovakia (Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1942), 4.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid., Music of Czechoslovakia, 7.

[4] Maria Dowling, Czechoslovakia (London: Arnold, 2002), xiii.

[5] Ibid., xiv-xv.