Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) - Pathography

Article excerpt

Summary - Bedfich Smetana was born in Litomysl on 2 March, 1824. Franz Liszt first spotted his musical talent and gave him financial support. At the age of 42 he made his first success as a composer with his operas. In 1874 he suffered from a purulent genital ulcer and later on from a longlasting throat inflammation and eczema over his whole body. First he had hearing problems and vertigo, and soon became deaf on the right ear and partly on the left. He was introvert, depressed and gloomy, having hearing hallucinations (paramusias) that he used while composing. He became confused in the last year of his life; he had attacks of frustration, outbursts of fury and anger. Finally he became completely confused, had hallucinations, and sometimes screamed. When he died, at the age of 60, he seemed a very old man. The autopsy made by dr Hlava showed adherent and fibrous leptomeninges, cerebral cortex thinned (they could not be separated), wider ventricular system, the hearing nerve was thin on both sides. The first conclusion was - a chronic inflammation of cerebral cortex and leptomeninges as a consequence of progressive paralysis, last stage of syphilis. Later on dr Hlava changed his decision to cerebral atherosclerosis with Menier's disease and haemorrhages in the inner ear. So the final judgement on the cause of Smetana's death is partly questionable even though genital ulcer, inflammation of tonsils, general eczema, deafness, confusion, excitement and dementia, strongly suggest syphilis.

Key words: Bedfich Smetana; composer; biopathography; Meniere's disease; syphilis; progressive paralysis; cerebral atherosclerosis

BIOGRAPHY

Bedfich Smetana, great Czech composer, is considered one of the leading musicians and composers of his time. His life represents the archetypal tragic struggle for acceptance and new ideas, to which he gave his full exertions as a composer, critic and conductor.1

He was born in 1824 in Litomysl, Bohemia. At that time it was the territory of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. He was the eleventh child of eighteen. His father was a brewer and a music lover who gave him the musical training. Smetana was a child prodigy - he played in a string quartet at the age of five and debuted as a pianist a year after. He was able to play many other instruments as well. He gave his first performance to public when he was seven. He wrote his first composition at the age of eight.2

After having heard Liszt playing in Prague when he was sixteen, he definitely decided to become a professional musician. His parents could never forgive him that decision, trying to convince him that he would finish up as a poor and travelling musician. They did not live long enough to witness his success and glory. While studying in the Bohemian capital he taught rich and aristocratic families (Count Leopold Thun) the piano. His education was entirely carried out in German - Smetana did not learn Czech until he was an adult. Later on F. Liszt recognized his musical and composing talent and gave him significant financial support. In 1848 he founded a music institute in Prague, but the school was not successful.3

He took part in fighting at barricades during the abortive 1 848 nationalist uprising, and that year inspired him with national consciousness. In 1849 he married Katerina Kolarova, whom he had known since his Plzen Gymnasium days. Three of his four daughters died between 1 854 and 1 856. Then, after years of desperate subsistence in Prague, he moved to Gotheborg, Sweden. There he became highly appreciated as a teacher, pianist and conductor. His wife died in 1859.4 Two years later he married Bettina Ferdinandova. Smetana's most serious effort as a composer, however, began after his return to Prague in 1 86 1 , by which time he had become a wholehearted Czech nationalist. In 1866 he wrote »The Branderburgers in Bohemia«, his first opera and first work based on national themes. His second opera »The Batered Bride« became very popular and was probably his most performed piece on the stage. …