Composers Datebook®

Smetana and the National Theatre in Prague

Bedrich Smetana — Act I Prelude and opening chorus,. fr "Dalibor" (Prague National Theatre Orchestra and Chorus; Zdenek Kosler, cond.) Supraphon ‎SU0077-2 632

Composer's Datebook - May 16, 2022


download audio

May 16, 2022


On today’s date in 1868, the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana helped lay the foundation stone for Prague’s future National Theatre. As the stone was driven into the soil with a ceremonial mallet, Smetana exclaimed, “In music is the life of the Czechs!” That same evening at Prague's New Town Theatre Smetana conducted the premiere performance of his new opera “Dalibor.” It’s worthy of note that one of the players in the orchestra was a 26-year old violist and fellow composer named Antonin Dvorak.

The subject matter of “Dalibor” seemed theatrically apt for the occasion: a Czech legend about a rebellious 15th century knight imprisoned for supporting a peasant uprising. During his imprisonment, according to the legend, Dalibor learned to play the violin so beautifully that people came to listen to him outside the window of the Prague Castle tower in which he was held.

Thirteen years after the premiere of “Dalibor,” the National Theatre opened on June 11, 1881. For that gala occasion, another Smetana opera, “Libuse,” received its premiere performance. Sadly, by that time Smetana was completely deaf, mentally ailing, and desperately poor.

To add insult to injury, the directors of the new theater had neglected to invite him to the gala premiere of his own opera! Despite the inexcusable snub, Smetana found his way into the theater, and, when called on the stage and recognized by the audience, was acknowledged with thunderous applause.

Music Played in Today's Program

Bedrich Smetana — Act I Prelude and opening chorus,. fr "Dalibor" (Prague National Theatre Orchestra and Chorus; Zdenek Kosler, cond.) Supraphon ‎SU0077-2 632

On This Day


  • 1931 - American composer Donald James Martino, in Plainfield, N.J.;


  • 1910 - Russian composer Mily Balakirev (Gregorian date: May 29);


  • 1726 - Handel: opera "Alessandro" (Julian date: May 5);

  • 1889 - Massenet: opera "Esclarmonde" at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1948 - Quincy Porter: Viola Concerto, in New York City;

  • 1948 - Wallingford Rieger: Symphony No. 3, in New York City;

  • 1966 - Ralph Shapey: "Rituals," in Chicago;

  • 1966 - Villa-Lobos: Sinfonia No. 9, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1969 - Cage: "HPSCHD," for amplified harpsichord and 51 tapes, in Urbana, Ill.;

  • 1971 - Britten: opera "Owen Wingrave," as a telecast on BBC-TV in England and NET (National Educational Television) in the United States;

  • 1972 - Jaocb Druckman: "Windows" for orchestra, by the Chicago Symphony; This work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1972;

  • 1974 - Bernstein: ballet "Dybbuk," by the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center, with choreography by Jerome Robbins and the composer conducting;

  • 1991 - Joan Tower: "Concerto for Orchestra," by the St. Louis Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting;


  • 1792 - The Teatro la Fenice ("The Phoenix") opens in Venice;

  • 1888 - Emile Berliner gives the first public display of his invention, the flat gramophone disk, at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.