Some critics of Braniboři complained that it was too “Wagnerian,” and Smetana responded by turning in his next opera to a decidedly lighter mood, creating what has become perhaps the paragon of a folk opera; Prodaná nevĕsta (“The Bartered Bride”) went through several revisions before taking its final form in 1871, but enjoyed enormous popularity almost immediately. Nonetheless, with his third opera, Dalibor (1868), his critics resumed their attacks and Smetana found his position at the opera and within Prague’s cultural life increasingly embattled. He completed his next opera, Libuše, in 1871, though it did not receive its premiere until almost ten years later, because Smetana reserved it for the opening of a new Czech opera house. Disaster struck in these years as he began to go deaf (a result of syphilis) and was forced to retire from his theater post. He continued to compose, however, producing what may be his most famous work, the cycle of patriotic symphonic poems entitled Má vlast (1874–79), as well as two impressive string quartets, a cycle of Czech Dances for piano, and several more operas, including Dvĕ vdovy (“The Two Widows”—1874) and Hubička (“The Kiss”—1876). Money worries dogged Smetana for the rest of his life, and by the time his contribution to Czech culture came to be widely revered, he had only a few years left to live. By then he was already suffering from the incipient dementia that would see him committed to an insane asylum, where he died in 1884.
Never as stormy as those of his two predecessors, Grieg’s life was on the whole a happy one, despite his often frail health. Born in Bergen in 1843 to a prosperous merchant family, Grieg’s early musical talent was such that his parents sent him, on the urging of the renowned Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, to the Leipzig Conservatory, regarded as the foremost of its day. Upon his graduation, Grieg began associating with young Scandinavian musicians in both Christiania (the former name for Oslo) and Copenhagen, and together they encouraged one another’s interest in folk music. In Christiania, Grieg founded a music school and conducted orchestral concerts, though he was often frustrated by what he saw as the Norwegians’ lack of interest in art music. The work that first brought him to wide international attention was his piano concerto (1868); chamber works such as his violin sonatas and miniatures for piano also grew popular.