Zdenêk Fibich
(b. Všebo?ice, 21 December 1850; d. Prague, 15 October 1900)

Overture to Noc na Karstejne ("A Night in Karlstein"), op. 26 (1886)
after the comedy by Jaroslav Vrchlický (1853-1912)


An extraordinarily prolific and wide-ranging composer, Fibich was celebrated during his relatively brief lifetime and shortly thereafter alongside Smetana and Dvorák as one of the three supreme creators of Czech national music. If he later sacrified this role to his younger contemporary Janácek, this is not to deny the invariably superb craftsmanship and occasionally the emotional force of his music. Fibich grew up in a highly cultivated bilingual household and divided his school years between Vienna and Prague. He had already composed fifty works by the age of fifteen when he left for Leipzig to perfect his musical training (1865-7). After further studies in Paris and Mannheim he returned in 1870 to Prague, where he was soon able to earn a living entirely from his compositions and private teaching. Although he wrote voluminously in practically every genre, he is perhaps best known today as the master of the concert melodrama, in which a speaker recites a literary text to an orchestral accompaniment, and for his Nálady, dojmy a upomínky ("Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences," 1892-8), a set of 376 piano pieces of extraordinary range and variety that functioned as a sort of erotic diary for the great love-affair of his later years and which included, as piece no. 139, the perennial and much-loved miniature, Poème.

Noc na Karlštejn? is the most successful comedy by Jaroslav Vrchlický, the nom de plûme of Emil Bohuslav Frída (1853-1912), who besides being a highly esteemed professor of comparative literature also managed to produce some 85 volumes of accomplished lyric verse. The play was first performed in 1884 and deals with the romantic complications of an aristocratic married couple, played out in the famous medieval castle of Karlstein in the present Czech Republic. Two years later Fibich supplied a sprightly overture whose superior qualities were immediately recognized by critics and audiences alike from the moment of its first performance at the Academic Reading Association, Prague, on 25 March 1886, with Adolf ?ech conducting the orchestra of the National Theater. The piece continued to serve as an overture to productions of the play until 1903. Before long, however, it had taken on a life of its own as a concert piece, especially after Hans Richter and the Vienna Philharmonic introduced it to Vienna on 20 November 1892. In 1886, the year of its première, the overture was published in full score and in Fibich's own arrangement for piano four-hands by Urbánek in Prague, followed in 1900 by the orchestral material. The frequent reissues attest to its continued popularity during the twentieth century, and it is now regarded by Fibich's admirers among the very best of his works.

Bradford Robinson, 2005
For performance material please contact the publisher Edition Bärenreiter, Kassel. Reprint of a copy from the Musikbibliothek der Münchener Stadtbibliothek, Munich.