Bedřich Smetana was born on March 2, 1824 as the 11th child in a brewer’s family in Litomyšl. He was already playing the violin in a quartet when he was five years old, then the piano a year later, and he was eight years old when he composed his first work. He went to Prague to study music and there he worked as a teacher in the family of Count Thun.
In 1874 Smetana’s health began to deteriorate as a result of syphilis. Greatly concerned, he resigned his conductorship of the Prague Opera. He became totally deaf in late 1874, but between that year and 1879 he wrote the cycle of six symphonic poems bearing the collective title Má vlast (My Country), which includes Vltava (The Moldau), Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests), and Vyšehrad (the name of a fortress in Prague). Smetana’s health rapidly deteriorated and the composer had to be taken to Prague and institutionalized, where he died on May 12, 1884.