The composition describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer's wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night's moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St John's Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vyšehrad, and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Labe.
Ma Vlast means My Land in Czech. 'Vltava', also known by its German name 'Moldau', is a river in the Czech Republic, very big, and it stretches through lots of different scenery.
Ma Vlast is actually a set of compositions that Smetana wrote in homage to his homeland, sort of like Finlandia. We'll be covering the second movement, which is about the aforementioned river Vltava.
The piece opens with a beautiful flute duet (which I think must be 'starting from the two small springs' that he talks of in the above quote). They are joined by other woodwinds, and it grows until the strings pick it up and it evolves into a rich and solelmn, but also gorgeous and bright melody. There is a lot of flute action in Vltava. In the middle of the song, there is another flute duet accompanied by quiet strings. This second duet sort of follows the pattern of the first one, but it is much quieter and is near transcendent at times; painting a musical picture of a stream running through the forest, with sunlight reflecting off it... [contented sigh] This one too grows and eventually becomes like a waterfall, all crazy and swirling around and such.
Smetana does an absolutely stellar job evoking the sounds of a river with his music. It goes from swelling and loud to quiet and peaceful, and everything in between. There are many different moods in the music, and it's another lovely example of music used to express love for one's homeland.
Next Up: Sheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov OR Romance in F Major for Violin and Orchestra by Beethoven