Bedrich Smetana

Smetana String Quartet in E Minor "From My Life"


Excerpt from Death and the Maiden byGerald Elias

“What happened?” Nathaniel asked.
“It was nothing.  It was accident,” said Pravda.
“What was an accident?” asked Jacobus.
“Annika and Ivan were arguing about what happened at the outreach,” Yumi said.
“Not arguing,” said Ivan.  “Discussing.  We were discussing.  I say to Annika, so, maybe you think now I know Smetana Quartet.”
“And Annika said,” Yumi continued, “‘Yes, you do death very well.’”
“I thought it was funny joke,” said Ivan.
“So he gave her a friendly pat on the back,” said Yumi, “hard enough to knock her down a flight of stairs.”


Music from Death and the Maiden
String Quartet in E Minor (“From My Life”) by Bedrich Smetana


It’s not uncommon to find autobiographical allusions in music, but in the unique String Quartet in E Minor, Bedrich Smetana presents us with a musically graphic, chronological presentation of his entire life, ending with the composer’s own death, which he accurately foresaw several years into the future.

Smetana himself wrote in a letter of April 12, 1878 (by which time he had already lost his hearing) exactly what the music is about.  Here’s a summary:
Movement 1: His love of art as a young man; his longing for something indefinable; a foreboding about the future.
Movement 2: His love of dance music as a youth, especially of his native Czech homeland.
Movement 3: His happiness over his love for the girl who became his wife.
Movement 4: His joy over Czech national music becoming a respected art form and of his role in its ascension.  This joy is suddenly interrupted by a lengthy piercing E in its highest register, which was the note that sounded nonstop in his ear just before his deafness, and which presages his death.  He painfully recounts earlier moments of his life that is followed by a fleeting ray of hope, ultimately giving way to his inescapable fate.

All of this would be no more than of historical interest, except for the fact that the music of this quartet is overwhelmingly beautiful and of the highest degree of craftsmanship, which is all the more remarkable considering that Smetana was already deaf, losing his eyesight, and finally his sanity as a result of the syphilis that eventually also took his life.


Bedrich Smetana - "From My Life"
performed by the Abramyan String Quartet

Movement 1

Movement 2

Movement 3

Movement 4