Smetana would spend three years studying music under Proksch, all the while teaching piano to Thun’s children. The French composer Berlioz visited Prague in 1846, at which time Smetana attended his concerts, and may well have met him through Proksch. Through his patron, Count Thun, he met composers Robert and Clara Schumann.
In 1847, Smetana quit his job as piano teacher to Count Thun, recommending that his girlfriend, Kateřina, take his place. He toured Western Bohemia in the hope of making a name for himself. Unfortunately, the tour was largely a failure, and Smetana was forced to return to Prague and seek out more students so he could support himself. It was at this time that he began to compose his Overture in D major.
In 1848, revolutions swept across Europe. Smetana became caught up in patriotic fervor and composed two marches, as well as his The Song of Freedom. The Czechs were chafing under the Habsburg yoke, and Smetana’s old friend Karel Havlíček was at the forefront of a democratic movement to create greater autonomy for them.
Not surprisingly, Habsburg troops marched into Prague in June of that year. Prague’s famous Charles Bridge was barricaded, and Smetana, as part of “Svornost” (“Citizens’ Army”), took part in defending it. This uprising was soon quashed by Habsburg forces, and Smetana returned to his music.
In August of 1848, Smetana opened a Piano Institute, teaching only twelve students. He had applied to Franz Liszt earlier in the year, asking for money to help open the school, as well as assistance in finding a publisher for his work titled Six Characteristic Pieces. Although Liszt responded graciously to the request of locating a publisher, he made no mention of lending any money to Smetana.
The Piano Institute, though it got off to a rocky start, eventually flourished. In 1849, it moved to the home of Kateřina’s parents. Liszt himself visited the school frequently, and former Emperor Ferdinand of Austria often attended concerts at the school.
With things going relatively well, Smetana married Kateřina on August 27, 1849. In 1850, he became Court Pianist to Ferdinand, who lived in Prague Castle. He continued to compose, in addition to working at the Piano Institute. He wrote his Triumphal Symphony in 1853 – 1854, to commemorate the marriage of Emperor Franz Joseph. The symphony was rejected; Smetana then hired an orchestra to perform it at Prague’s Konvikt Hall on February 26, 1855. The public’s reaction was lukewarm, at best.
1854 brought the first of a series of family tragedies to Smetana. In July of that year, his second-oldest daughter, Gabriela, died of tuberculosis. In 1855, his oldest daughter, Bedřiška, died of scarlet fever at the age of four.
Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor, written in tribute to her, was widely criticized upon its performance on December 3 of that year. In June of 1856, his daughter Kateřina, born after Bedřiška’s death, also died. As if this weren’t enough, Smetana’s wife Kateřina was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
For more on Smetana, go to Part III of this series.