September 2013

Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride

by Bedřích Smetana

Bedřích Smetana (pronounced bed-REEKH SMEH-tah-nah) was born in 1824 near Prague in what is now referred to as the Czech Republic. His name was actually Friedrich (pronounced FREED-rikh), but in 1859, he became particularly patriotic about his Czech heritage. He dropped his German name (Friedrich) for a distinctly Czech name (Bedřích).

Smetana is considered the father of Czech music, although his works aren't nearly as well-known as some later Czech composers, like Antonín Dvořák. Smetana would write many piano and orchestral works, but he's most well-known for a comic opera called "The Bartered Bride". One of his mentors, Franz Liszt, was also a very successful composer and performer.

"The Bartered Bride" was written between 1863 and 1866. It was first performed in Prague in 1866, but then revised several times more. The final version was first perfomed in 1870.

"The Bartered Bride" is a story about a young woman who wants to marry a young man, but her father is compelling her to marry the son of a wealthy landowner. The father attempts to bribe the young man she wants to marry, is eventually tricked by the young man, and, by the end, the young man and young woman are to be married.

At the beginning of the third act, a circus comes to town. Among the troop are some dancing jesters (or "comedians"), and a very fast-paced orchestral work is played. This is usually translated as "Dance of the Comedians", but is also translated as "March of the Comedians".

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

I don't know exactly when I first heard this, but I can tell you where: The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show. For the first Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon in 1949 ("Fast and Furry-ous"), Carl Stalling used a great deal from "Dance of the Comedians". He would continue to include bits of this piece in quite a few future Road Runner cartoons. It got to the point that this tune got so ingrained, I didn't even think of it being associated with a classical piece.

It was probably in my 30s (early 2000s) that I finally came across a recording (through BBC Music). While listening to it, it finally dawned on me that Carl Stalling used somebody else's work (not uncommon for Carl Stalling).


So here is the "Dance of the Comedians" from The Bartered Bride. Enjoy!

Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride by Bedřích Smetana (5:58)

For those interested, this recording was performed by The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zdeněk Košler.

Jon's Interpretation:

I haven't known about this piece for very long, so it hasn't had as much time to grow on me. I still enjoy listening to it, but, more often than not, it reminds me of Road Runner cartoons. I do enjoy its excited, fast-paced feel, and the main theme that the trumpets introduce about one minute into the piece is one of my favorites. It gets stuck in my head for a while after listening.

Extra Credit:

Here's the score for Dance of the Comedians, should you wish to follow along.

Score for Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride by Bedřích Smetana

Now, I could hardly talk so much about Road Runner cartoons and their influence on my first hearing this piece without providing an example. So, here is "Fast and Furry-ous", the first Road Runner cartoon. Enjoy the show, but be sure to listen to the soundtrack!