Mundane Monday: The Moldau

Orchestra rehearsals are starting up again in a little over a week. For this concert cycle, I will be playing two pieces I’ve played before, on violin: Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, and Smetana’s Ma Vlast, or The Moldau. But this time I’ll be playing them on the viola.

The featured picture, from the front page of the viola part of the Moldau, looks a bit mundane this Monday morning. It’s just black dots on a white background: lots and lots of black dots over and over again. This page of music reminds me of the book, What the Witch Left, by Ruth Chew. That book has a scene in which the characters, two grade-school girls who are friends, find some magic gloves that enable one of them to play the piano very well: a piece of music with a lot of “nasty black dots” on the page that impresses her piano teacher. That’s kind of how these dots look too, nasty. Where are my magic gloves?

Shutterstock Prague

But the fact is, I don’t really need them. There’s nothing rhythmically difficult about this passage. Being 16th notes, they may go by a little too fast, but all of the notes are the same length. You also may notice patterns: in each measure (marked by the vertical lines in each row), the notes go up and then they go back down. They do this for measures and minutes on end: up and down, up and down, like waves. The “hairpins” under the staff also repeat. These hairpins signal volume of sound, otherwise known as dynamics. As the music gets louder, it is called a crescendo; softer again as it gets lower, a decrescendo (or diminuendo).

From “Canoeing and Rafting on the Vltava River”

In this part of the piece, the music flows like a peaceful river, trickling and flowing regularly downstream. Later, it will become wet and wild, something more like Class IV whitewater rapids. In each section, you can see this quality in the music itself.

Rafael Kubelik – Boston Symphony Orchestra 1971


12 thoughts on “Mundane Monday: The Moldau”

  1. You probably know that the Moldau theme was adapted for Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. Every time I hear the Moldau it takes me back to my Hebrew school childhood. Some say the theme was adapted for the anthem. Others say both pieces come from the same folk melody.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this is probably Smetana’s best-known work. Among musicians it is well known for all the 16th notes, in addition to being beautiful to listen to. He also wrote a comic opera called “The Bartered Bride” which is pretty famous.

      Liked by 1 person

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