Movement 1: Allegro vivo appassionato
Movement 2: Allegro moderato alla polka
Movement 3: Largo sostenuto
Movement 4: Vivace
My intention was to paint a tone picture of my life. The first movement depicts my youthful leanings towards art, a Romantic atmosphere, the inexpressible yearning for something I could neither express nor define, and also a kind of warning of my future misfortune. The long persistent note in the finale owes its origin to this. It is the fateful ringing of the high-pitched tones in my ears, which, in 1874, announced the beginning of my deafness. I allow myself this small joke, though [my loss of hearing] was ultimately disastrous.
The second movement, a quasi-polka, recalls the joyful days of my youth when I composed dance tunes and was widely known as a passionate lover of dancing.
The third movement (the one which, in the opinion of the gentlemen who play this quartet, is unperformable) reminds me of the happiness of my first love, the girl who later became my first wife [and whom Smetana sadly lost to tuberculosis, caught in the harsh Gothenburg climate].
The fourth movement describes my discovery that I could incorporate national elements in my music, and my joy in following this path until it was terminated by the onset of my deafness, the outlook into a sad future, the tiny rays of hope of recovery; but remembering the promise of my early career, a feeling of painful regret.
There can be no doubt about the sincerity of Smetana’s feelings. Having wished for wider recognition and eventually realizing that his reputation would come through the Czech National Revival, Smetana had become its most vocal devotee. Lauded as the father of Czech music, his deafness cruelly consigned him to an increasingly hermitic existence. The sudden interruption of the quartet’s vivacious finale is an eloquent depiction of creativity cut down. The melancholic (if consoled) lullaby that follows, with its whispers of past glories, tells of his painful acquiescence.
from notes by Gavin Plumley © 2011