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8.110907 - DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 / SMETANA: Moldau (Kleiber) (1927-1948)
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904):
Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884)
Antonín Dvořák was born in 1841, the son of a village butcher and innkeeper in the village of Nelahozeves, near Kralupy, in Bohemia, and some forty miles north of Prague. It was natural that he should follow the example of his father and grandfather by learning the family trade, and to this end he left school at the age of eleven. There is no record of his competence in butchery, but his musical abilities were early apparent, and in 1853 he was sent to lodge with an uncle in Zlonice, where he continued his schooling, learning German and improving his knowledge of music, rudimentary skill in which he had already acquired at home and in the village band and church. Further study of German and of music at Kamenice, a town in northern Bohemia, led to his admission, in 1857, to the Prague Organ School, from which he graduated two years later.
In the year that followed, Dvořák earned his living as a viola-player in a band under the direction of Karel Komsák which was to form the nucleus of the Provisional Theatre Orchestra, established in 1862. Four years later Smetana was appointed conductor of the opera-house, where his Czech operas The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride had already been performed. It was not until 1871 that Dvořák resigned from the theatre orchestra, to take a wife and a position as an organist and support himself by additional private teaching, while busy on a series of compositions that gradually became known to a wider circle. Further recognition came in 1875 with the award of a government grant, through the agency of the critic Eduard Hanslick and of Brahms. With the encouragement of the latter came opportunities for the wider dissemination of his music and Dvořák was to win particular popularity with his Moravian Duets, followed by the first set of Slavonic Dances, originally for piano duet. There were visits to Germany and to England, and a series of compositions that secured him an unassailable position in Czech music and a place of honour in the larger world. Early in 1891 Dvořák became professor of composition at Prague Conservatory. In the summer of the same year he was invited by Mrs Jeannette Thurber, wife of a rich American grocer, to become director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, a position he took up that autumn. Here it was hoped that he would establish a new American tradition of music, while serving as a distinguished figurehead for the new institution. By 1895, in the course of a second two-year contract, Dvořák had had enough of America. In any case Mrs Thurber had found it difficult to pay him as regularly as she should have done. Returning to Europe, he resumed his duties at the Prague Conservatory, of which he was to become nominal director in 1901, able to spend most of his time at his country retreat with his family and his pigeons. He died on 1 May 1904.
The Carnival Overture was the second of three overtures written in 1891 and 1892, and at first given the titles Nature, Life and Love.
Dvořák wrote his earlier Scherzo capriccioso in the spring of 1883. It is among his most successful works, composed at a time when his reputation had resulted in an invitation to London and an offer from Vienna for a German opera. The first he accepted in the following year, but he decided against Vienna, preferring to remain loyal to Bohemia and the cause of opera in the Czech language.
Dvořák wrote nine symphonies, variously numbered, since he tried to discard earlier attempts at the form, undertaken in 1863. The last of the symphonies, published as No. 5, but in fact the ninth, has the explanatory title "From the New World". It was written in the early months of 1893 and first performed at Carnegie Hall on 16 December of the same year by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Anton Seidl. It was an immediate success. Dvořák was deeply influenced by America and by the Indian and Negro music he heard, as well as the songs of Stephen Foster. In Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha he found an expression of American identity that also found a place in his symphony. He made it clear that all the themes were original, although shaped by the use of particular rhythmic and melodic features of music of the New World. Nevertheless the symphony retains an inevitable air of Bohemia. Mrs Thurber had hoped that Hiawatha might form the basis of an American opera from the composer she had hired. The slow movement of the symphony, with its famous cor anglais solo, is described by a note of the composer's as Morning, possibly the blessing of the cornfields in Longfellow's poem, rather than the burial in the forest that has been identified with the movement. The third movement is associated with Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, with the bridegroom "Whirling, spinning round in circles, Leaping o'er the guests assembled", energetic activity contrasted with a more properly Bohemian trio section. The final movement, with its references to what has passed, forms a brilliant conclusion, ending in the quietest possible sustained chord.
Dvořák wrote his first set of Slavonic Dances in August 1878, designing the dances for piano duet, but scoring them for orchestra at the same time. The composition was in response to a commission from the publisher Simrock, after the great success of the Moravian Duets, published by Simrock at the suggestion of Brahms.
It was with Bedrich Smetana that Czech national music came of age. Bohemian by birth, the son of a master-brewer in the service of Count Waldstein, he enjoyed an early education that allowed only intermittent attention to music. He was later able to support himself as a piano teacher in the house of a nobleman in Prague, while taking lessons privately, his aim, as he put it, to be a Liszt in piano technique and a Mozart in composition. He was involved in the abortive nationalist rising of 1848 and took refuge for a time in Sweden, before settling again in Bohemia after the Austrian defeat in 1859 by Napoleon III. His interest now centred on the new Provisional Theatre in Prague, where he became conductor in 1866 after earlier disappointment.
The symphonic poem Vltava (Moldau) is one of a cycle of six such works under the title Má Vlast (My Fatherland) by Smetana, compositions that combine a geographical and patriotic survey of Bohemia. The River Vltava, the second of the whole cycle, completed in 1880, flows on with growing majesty, after the gentle ripples with which it begins, passing through the countryside, witness to the events of past history.
Dvořák: Carnival Overture, Op. 92
Dvořák: Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66
Smetana: "The Moldau" from Má Vlast
Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, "From the New World"
Dvořák: Slavonic Dance No. 1, Op. 46
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