University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

University of Hartford

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Dvor√°k: Saint Ludmila

03/17/2019 1:00 pm
03/17/2019 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

On this second Sunday in Lent I'm bringing out for a fourth airing our station's old Supraphon recording of Antonín Dvorák's oratorio St. Ludmila. I had presented this same three-LP set on three previous occasions during the Lenten/Paschal period in 1986, 2007 and 2013.

A thousand years ago the pagan Czechs received Christian missionaries from the West, representing the Roman Catholic faith, and from the East, bearing with them Slavonic Orthodoxy. A Bohemian princess Ludmila sided with the proselytizers from the East. A power struggle ensued within the royal house of Bohemia over the conversion of Ludmila to Orthodox Christianity. She was assassinated and soon came to be revered as a holy martyr. The cult of St. Ludmila served in later centuries as a rallying point for Czech nationalism. Her martyrdom was exactly the right subject for the leading nineteenth century Czech nationalist composer to set to music.

Dvorák's St. Ludmila premiered in Birmingham, England in 1886 with considerable success. (The English public have welcomed new oratorios since the time of Handel, and the Victorians also very much liked Dvorák's music.) Supraphon, the old Czechoslovak state record label, recorded this masterwork in 1965, when Václav Smetacek conducted the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, with five native Czech speaking vocal soloists.