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Czech Chamber Music Society • Jitka Čechová

March 2024 will see the passing of a second century since the birth of the founder of the Czech tradition of classical music. Although many people associate Bedřich Smetana more with operas or the symphonic poems Má vlast, his piano music is also noteworthy. Jitka Čechová will play will play a recital with a Smetana programme.

Subscription series HP | Duration of the programme 1 hour 30 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society


Bedřich Smetana
Macbeth and the Witches (10')
A Treasury of Melodies, selections (8')
Concert etude in G sharp minor, Op. 17 “On the Seashore” (5')
Sketches, Op. 5 (11')
Concert Etude in C major (6')

— Intermission —

Rêves / Dreams (27')


Jitka Čechová piano 

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Jitka Čechová

Rudolfinum — Suk Hall

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Price from 200 to 250 CZK Tickets and contact information

Reservation of seats for current subscribers:
until 3 June 2024, 20.00
Sale of individual tickets for subscription concerts:
from 10 June 2024, 10.00
Ticket sales for all public dress rehearsals:
from 11 September 2024, 10.00

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Jitka Čechová  piano

Jitka Čechová completed her piano studies at the Prague Conservatory under Jan Novotný and at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague under Peter Toperczer. She then continued her postgraduate studies under Eugen Indjic in Paris and Vitali Berzon in Freiburg. She has been a laureate of numerous international competitions both in the Czech Republic and abroad.

As a soloist and chamber musician she performs all over the world, collaborating with prominent Czech and international orchestras and conductors. She is regularly invited to major music venues and festivals. The focus of her repertoire is on works by Czech composers – Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, Bohuslav Martinů, as well as Josef Suk and Vítězslav Novák. One of the most important Czech composers of the 20th century, Zdeněk Lukáš, dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 3 to her, which she premiered during her concert tour of Germany with the SWR Symphonieorchester conducted by Petr Altrichter.

Chamber music is an indispensable component of Čechová’s musical identity. She is best known as the pianist in the Smetana Trio. Within the Smetana Trio partnership she also plays chamber duets with her partners in the Trio (Jan Talich – violin, Jan Páleníček – cello) and performs solo pieces as part of the Trio’s chamber music repertoire. The Smetana Trio has won numerous domestic and international awards during its nearly 25 years of existence.

She has recorded a number of albums for Supraphon, Intercord, BMG, Lotos and other labels, including a recording of the complete piano works by Bedřich Smetana (8 CDs, Supraphon 2014), which has won accolades from prominent music critics and magazines both at home and abroad. She made many recordings of concertante compositions, including the complete piano concertos by Josef Páleníček (three piano concertos and a concertino) in collaboration with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra, and participated in the unique project of the complete sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti for Czech Radio. She recorded many CDs for Czech and foreign labels together with the Smetana Trio.

Čechová has given masterclasses in Prague, London, the Northern College of Music in Manchester, Campos do Jordão in Brazil, the Colburn School University in Los Angeles, Eau Claire in Wisconsin, and in Luxembourg. She has also been invited to serve on juries for international competitions, most recently the ARD Competition in Munich.


Bedřich Smetana

Bedřich Smetana’s first compositional attempts were connected with the piano, which he played from childhood and with whose possibilities he was intimately familiar. At first he thought of becoming a concert pianist. In the years of his entry into concert life, he looked up to his role models such as Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, as well as Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn. All of these figures represented the creative arts in conjunction with the performing arts, and Smetana followed the same path. During his student years in Pilsen, his repertoire included, in addition to his own early experiments, the salon compositions by the then popular Adolph Henselt. In July 1847, the young violinist Arnošt Nesvadba visited Pilsen and, as we know from an entry in Smetana’s diary, “he asked me to accompany him at his concert and play one of the compositions by myself. [...] I played a fantasy on a Czech-Russian song by Henselt.” The report on this performance by Smetana states that he played Henselt’s composition “expressively, clearly and smoothly not only in technical terms, but he was also excellent in terms of vocal quality, so that the theme was rendered in a distinct and sensitive manner.” The author of the review of Smetana’s performance in Pilsen mentioned an element that later became fundamental to the composer’s musical thought and his piano works in particular, namely the connection of the harmonic and polyphonic components with the melody hidden in the middle voices. The report on the Pilsen concert included a recommendation that the young musician “seek the opportunity to acquire a higher artistic education under the guidance of a skilled master.” Smetana found the opportunity the same year; in October 1843 he went to Prague and began his studies with Joseph Proksch. In him, Smetana found a teacher who built on a classical foundation combined with Romantic thought. Smetana supported himself as a home tutor in the family of Count Thun, to whom the young musician was recommended by the director of the conservatory, Jan Bedřich Kittl.

For some time Smetana could not make up his mind whether to become a concert virtuoso or a composer. However, when the concert tour he took at the end of 1847 failed to meet his expectations, he decided to open his own music institute in Prague and earn his living as a piano teacher. He applied to Franz Liszt for a loan to enable him to do so, and also sent him his Six Characteristic Pieces. Liszt did not provide financial assistance, but he did more for Smetana’s future development: he recommended his piano cycle to the Leipzig publisher Kistner, where it was published as Op. 1 the same year. Smetana’s parents eventually provided him with a loan to establish the institute, and he was able to begin teaching in August 1848. For his students he arranged a number of works by various composers, his own compositions, as well as instructional pieces, including two cycles called A Treasury of Melodies, of which the first one (to be heard tonight) consists of three pieces and the second one, of four. Evidence of Smetana’s teaching and piano playing was provided by his pupil Josef Jiránek. According to him, when playing, Smetana moved his arms, hands and fingers in a very natural, unobtrusive way, maintaining an outward calm and emphasizing the expression with sensitive agogics, but never at the expense of the rhythmic component, for which he had a highly developed feeling.

The first period of the operation of Smetana’s music school ended with his departure to Sweden. The years 1856–1861, which Smetana spent in Gothenburg, marked the development of his national feelings and orientation towards programmatic music in his first major orchestral works. His preoccupation with Shakespeare was reflected in the symphonic poem Richard III from 1858, and another Shakespearean inspiration was provided by Macbeth, in particular a scene from Act 4 of the tragedy, in which the witches utter a prophecy that would prove fatal to Macbeth. As in Richard III, Smetana by his music sought to express the inner struggle of the hero, his insatiable desire for power, but also his fear and defiance. The piece was probably intended to be another symphonic poem, but it remained a piano sketch having the character of a technically demanding concert etude. It was first performed publicly as a posthumous piece as late as 19 December 1911 at a concert of new piano compositions organized by the Umělecká beseda [Art Society]. Its first performer was Václav Štěpán; the first review was as follows: “One is immediately captivated by the long breath, the tendency towards the epic and the powerful concept. Smetana’s bold use of dissonance, frequent delays and marching movements are reminiscent of his first Nordic symphonic poems.” In his book published in 1924, Vladimir Helfert described the work as “a musical harbinger of the terrible darkness” of the end of Smetana’s life. 

Concert Etude in C major (also from 1858) is built on two ideas, the first energetic and distinct one contrasted with the second lyrical one. This challenging piece exists in two original versions. The inception of the double cycle Sketches (Skizzen), some parts of which had been written earlier, falls in the same period. In terms of genre, these are small characteristic pieces, some of which, judging by their titles, may have an extra-musical content. Smetana dedicated the cycle to Clara Schumann.

Concert Etude “On the Seashore” from 1861 is a reminiscence of Sweden. The technically demanding runs illustrate the crashing of the sea waves, the melody that rises and falls between them is filled with melancholy. The piece, which Smetana wrote for himself as part of his own repertoire as a pianist, is a testament to his pianistic prowess. Smetana first performed the work on 9 November 1861 in Cologne during a concert tour of Germany and the Netherlands. Although he continued to perform as a pianist until he became deaf in 1874, this tour marked his saying goodbye to his career as a concert virtuoso. In 1863, he reopened his music institute in Prague, this time in partnership with the composer, choirmaster and teacher Ferdinand Heller. With Smetana’s appointment as principal conductor of the Provisional Theater, a new chapter opened in his life and the history of Czech music.

In 1874, Bedřich Smetana lost his hearing and spent the remaining 10 years of his life separated from the outside world of sound. However, his inner hearing remained unaffected. After a 13-year hiatus, during which he composed five operas, he returned to the piano and in 1875 composed the cycle Rêves (Dreams). As suggested by the title of the cycle and of the individual pieces, this composition is a reminiscence of bygone times in which Smetana experienced happy and sad moments. He dedicated each of the pieces to one of his former aristocratic pupils, who did not forget their teacher and kept visiting him. The French titles of the cycle and its sections refer to the aristocratic milieu and the genre of the so-called characteristic piece. The first edition of Dreams, published in 1879 by Emanuel Starý in Prague, was subtitled “6 morceaux caractéristiques”. It was also a nostalgic recollection: as we already know, Smetana’s Op. 1 was published in 1851 under the title Six Characteristic Pieces by the Leipzig publisher Kistner upon the recommendation of Franz Liszt. Smetana also refers to Liszt by means of the piano technique employed.

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