(In which we celebrate the birth of B.S.)

Posted by Job O Brother, March 2, 2009 04:31pm | Post a Comment

"Say smažák!"
Composer Bedřich Smetana

As all of you are undoubtedly already aware, today would have been the 185 birthday of Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana (pronounced Bedřich Smetana), had he not succumbed to a tenacious and ultimately fatal case of death.

I always love to hear how you, my faithful readers, celebrate Smetana’s Birthday, whether it be the traditional donning of feather headdresses and consumption of chocolate 'n' gunpowder cakes, or playing the challenging 8-mile Egg Toss, or simply drawing x’s all over your skin in blue ink while cowering in a corner, gnashing your teeth and rubbing sores with the delicious, homemade watermelon hard candies.
In my family, we’ve replaced the expensive and messy tradition of drowning kittens in butterscotch with the more humane practice of snowing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is not only kinder to animals, but ensures water-levels for the State of California remain drought-proof.


Making snow is not as hard as it sounds. Here’s what you will need:

Water (lots of it!)
Land (we recommend Earth – it’s convenient, versatile, and completely disposable)
Good old fashioned T.L.C.!

Directions: First, be sure to bundle up. Making snow means making things cold! If you don’t have enough winter-wear to keep Jack Frost from nipping your nose, try drinking a bottle of vodka, or doing jumping jacks, or rubbing your skin with some soothing kerosene and lighting it on fire. Mmm… cozy! (Remember, it’s illegal for people under age 21 to drink vodka, so stick to the latter options for your youngsters!)

Next, supercool cloud droplets, about 10 micrometers in diameter, until they freeze, making sure a few molecules in the liquid droplet get together to form an arrangement – close to that in an ice lattice – to freeze around your nuclei. Once the droplets have frozen, grow them in a supersaturated environment (air saturated with respect to liquid water is supersaturated with respect to ice when the temperature is below the freezing point) and grow by diffusion of water molecules in the air onto the ice crystal surface where they are deposited. Because your droplets will be so much more numerous than the ice crystals (because of the relative numbers of ice vs. droplet nuclei), the crystals will grow to hundreds of micrometers or millimeters in size at the expense of the water droplets (the Wegner-Bergeron-Findeison process).

Then, simply drop them from the heavens, sit back, and enjoy!

The life of Bedřich Smetana, while simple and sweet, is complex and sad. Smetana’s family was so poor that they couldn’t afford to keep him in his mother’s womb, as they rented out the space to tenants for extra income. (In a twist of fate that would become later relevant, Hungarian composer Franz Liszt once spent a notoriously unknown weekend frolicking in Mrs. Smetana’s uterus with Caroline de Saint-Cricq, daughter of Charles X. It is from their shenanigans that the playground chant of “Hey-hum, hey-hum! Smells like endometrium!” is drawn.)

Eventually, after enjoying some breakfast and aging about 50 years, Smetana composed his most famous work, Má vlast (which, translated, means My Fatherland). Included here is the aforementioned piece. This recording, conducted by legendary conductor and all-around roustabout Arturo Toscanini, while brilliant, is quite old, and suffers from tape hiss, due to the now defunct method of using cobras in the recording process.

Smetana’s championing of Czech folk music and his integration of it into the classical oeuvre was, at the time, revolutionary. It would come to inspire Antonín Dvořák, and many other, less juicy composers as well.

Another popular work by Smetana is the opera Prodaná nevěsta, known in proper speaking countries as The Bartered Bride. Written almost entirely while the composer was awake, it remains the only opera in music history with this title (though attempts were later made by creamy composer Leoš Janáček, whose now-forgotten works, “The Battered Bride” and “The Bartered Lady Who Got Quite Wed” came close – though it was the disastrously named “The Bride With Ulcerative Colitis” which garnered the most notoriety in its day.)

Below, you’ll find an excerpt from The Bartered Bride. In it, the characters Mařenka and Jeník meet in secret and sing of their love for shredded wheat...

Trouble ensues when the local pimp, Kecal, reveals his intention to buy the entire supply of breakfast cereals in the town. Even as he manages to do so, Jeník bravely gathers all the milk in the land with the help of his giant ladle.

Having foiled Kecal’s plot, the townsfolk hail Jeník as a hero, and erect a bowl in his honor. Mařenka and Jeník eat their morning meal with happiness, until diabetes and malnutrition from their overindulgence in wheat flour and refined sugar force them into a hospital, where they slip into mutual comas, all the while basking in the glow of their deep and triumphant love.

Smetana, a devoted fan of Beethoven, decided to also go deaf. When later asked if he ever regretted this decision, Smetana answered, “What?”

No matter what you’re doing today to mark this auspicious occasion, I hope you do it with health and happiness. It’s what Bedřich would want, after all. As they say in the Czech Republic, “Ukončete výstup a nástup, dveře se zavírají!”