Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 11 January 2019

The Moldau River Cruise: Oh, What Memories!

Adrianne asked me this morning to please put some music on the stereo. (That’s like asking me to breathe — or to enjoy chocolate!) I think she felt music would lighten her load and boost her energy level on this preparation day.

Bedrich Smetana

Czech composer Bedrich Smetana.

I perused through many possibilities in my CD collection, and I decided to begin with one of our dearest and most beloved pieces — The Moldau by Smetana. That piece not only brought our trip to Prague immediately to mind (the most beautiful city I have ever visited), but it also it took me back to the days when I was working at the University, and would periodically be asked to teach a course in Music Appreciation.

The Moldau was probably my favorite piece of Western classical music to teach, as it allowed the students to just sit back and (mentally) watch the unfolding story being told by the symphonic tone poem. It is a musical (totally instrumental; no words) journey down the Vltava (Moldau) River in what is now the Czech Republic.

Here is your itinerary for the Moldau River Cruise, giving the timings at which each event takes place in the music. At the bottom of this post, I have placed a link to my favorite recording of the work, performed by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by the immortal George Szell. By all means, click below and have fun!

  • [0:00] The piece begins by showing us how the river is formed from the waters of two springs, and the music lets you “see” the intertwining of the streams.
  • [1:08] The Moldau grows into a mighty river, represented by a popular Eastern European folk song (which lives today as Hatikvah (“The Hope”), the national anthem of the State of Israel).
  • [3:01] On the journey down the river, we spot hunters (with their hunting horns) on one of the banks.
  • [3:58] Farther down the river, we spot the festivities of a village wedding, where they are joyously dancing a polka.
  • [5:40] The river next passes through a mysterious gorge with appropriately contemplative music. It is a place said to be populated by water nymphs who come out at night to bathe.
  • [8:20] The speed of the river (and therefore the music) gradually begins to pick up. And suddenly, dramatically things get fierce as we navigate through the treacherous St. John’s Rapids.
  • [10:45] Finally we reach Prague, the capital city. As we pass the ancient and stately Vyšehrad Castle, the music returns to the river’s theme, an appropriately grand and uplifting finale.
  • [12:05] We leave the river to remain in Prague, and the piece ends with us watching the Moldau flow farther and farther into the distance.

Vyšehrad Castle, Prague

Vyšehrad Castle, Prague, spectacularly seen from the Vltava (Moldau) River.

A great musical journey for under 13 minutes, don’t you think??

For many of my students, it was thanks in large part to The Moldau that “classical” music ceased to be something foreign, obscure, dull, and objectionable — and became fun, alive, easily understandable, exciting to listen to, and just plain beautiful. I loved watching that epiphany!

So, all morning I’ve been playing for Adrianne many of the pieces I used to teach in that course.

Oh my, the memories!






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