Of the many impulses that enlivened 19th-century Romanticism, none was more ardently promoted by its adherents than nationalism. Toward the middle of the century, some of those countries that had embraced foreign traditions - mainly German ones - began to turn inward, seeking an expression that touched more deeply their own native instincts. In Bohemia, nationalistic pride was kindled first by Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884), then by Dvorák, later by Janácek. The Bartered Bride, Smetana's second opera (1866), stands in a pre-eminent position, credited with having established in its respective country a national musical consciousness.
Early in his career, Smetana enjoyed success in two capacities: As a pianist he was reputed to be an especially fine Chopin interpreter; as a conductor, he headed Sweden's Göteborg Philharmonic Society for several years. Leaving the latter post and returning to Prague, he aided the cause of Czech musical art first by supporting the movement to build an opera house, second by writing truly Bohemian operas to put on its stage. Bride's homely story of village life is cloaked in bright music that has enough melodic and rhythmic folk flavoring to make the Bohemian heart beat faster, and enough pure musical value to agitate the non-Czech pulse.
The music of the Overture is drawn largely from the finale of Act II. In this scene, the hero signs a contract relinquishing his claim to his fiancée, and the legal sale is witnessed by the townspeople. The Overture begins with full orchestral thrust, out of which a scherzo-ish figure accumulates in the strings, and then a syncopated dance figure makes its vigorous appearance. These materials are developed with great instrumental brilliance - the Overture's high spirits are activated as much by virtuosic orchestration as by vital, folkish picturesqueness.
- Orrin Howard served the Los Angeles Philharmonic as Director of Publications and Archives for more than 20 years.