Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast is a series of six symphonic miniatures, each of which refers to a selected place or event in Czech history or to various Czech legends. They delight the listener with their beautiful melodies, colourful orchestration and evocative, illustrative character. Particularly popular is the second movement – Vlatava. Its majestic main subject is preceded by one of the most charming symphonic episodes – an introduction featuring exquisite solos of flutes and clarinets that symbolise the intertwining of the two streams that are the source of the great river.
Alexander Mosolov was a tragic figure – an extremely ambitious and talented composer broken by a dreary and oppressive system. His Iron Foundry – a fragment of a ballet that he never completed – was to become a symbol of modernist Soviet music, which, despite its ideological message, could still be governed by autonomous laws. Soon, its author was sent to a gulag. Although he survived this traumatic experience, he had to modify his approach in line with the aesthetical precepts of the communist regime. His melodious Concerto for Harp and Orchestra (1939), which features an interesting harmony and texture, has a wonderful post-Romantic allure. And yet it is a rather regressive piece, in a style reminiscent of Mosolov’s mentor – Reinhold Glière.
Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society in London (1885), where the Czech composer had already made a name for himself. Imbued with heroic and elegiac moods, the first movement bears the note “from sorrowful years”, which could have been a reference to the recent death of his mother as well as to the plight of the Czech nation, which was becoming increasingly vocal in its aspirations for independence from the yoke of Austrian rule. The national element comes to the fore most explicitly in the finale, the drama of which can be perceived as an allegory of struggle. In the opinion of some commentators, the Seventh is Dvořák’s best piece in this genre, one that most fully reflects his orchestral artistry and the individual features of his style. Although it was the Ninth Symphony “From the New World” that ultimately won him public acclaim, the Seventh has firmly entrenched itself as part of the canon of neo-Romantic symphonic music since its premiere.