About this Recording
8.550143 - DVORAK: Slavonic Dances, Opp. 46 and 72
English 

Antonín Dvořák (1841 - 1904)

Slavonic Dances (First Series), Opus 46
Slavonic Dances (Second Series), Opus 72

Antonín Dvořák must be considered the greatest of the Czech nationalist composers of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and he certainly enjoys the widest international popularity. His achievement was to bring together music that derived its inspiration from Bohemia's woods and fields with the classical traditions continued by Brahms in Vienna.

Dvořák was born in 1841 in a village of Bohemia, where his father combined the trades of inn-keeper and butcher, which it was expected that his son would later follow. As a child he played in his father's village band, his early training as a violinist in the hands of the village schoolmaster. Schooling in Zlonice, where he was sent at the age of twelve, lodging with an uncle, allowed instruction in the rudiments of music from Antonín Liehmann. Two years later he was sent to Kamenice to learn German, but the following year the needs of his family made it necessary for him to return to Zlonice, where his parents had now settled, to help in the butcher's shop. Liehmann continued his lessons and persuaded his father to allow him to study in Prague. In 1857 he entered the Prague Organ School, where he was able to remain for two years.

Dvořák at first earned his living in Prague playing the viola in a band led by Karel Komsak, which was later to form part of the Provisional Theatre orchestra, established in 1862. He was to become principal viola-player and to continue as an orchestral player for the next nine years, for some time under the direction of Smetana, who exercised considerable influence on Dvořák's parallel work as a composer.

In 1871 Dvořák found himself able to resign from the Provisional Theatre orchestra and to marry. He took a position as organist at the church of St. Adalbert, taught a few pupils and otherwise devoted himself to composition. It was through the encouragement of Brahms, four years later, that his music was brought gradually to the attention of a much wider public. In particular Brahms was able to persuade Simrock to publish Dvořák's Moravian Duets. Their success was followed by the publisher's request for a further set, the first series of Slavonic Dances, Opus 46, also composed for piano duet, but orchestrated at the same time by the composer. The same year, 1878, saw the composition of the three Slavonic Rhapsodies, Opus 45.

From this time onwards Dvořák's fame was to grow and he was to win particular popularity in Germany and in England, visiting the latter country on several occasions and fulfilling commissions for choral works for Birmingham and Leeds.

In 1891 he was appointed professor of composition at Prague Conservatory and the following year accepted an invitation to go to New York as director of the new National Conservatory. The period in America gave rise to one of his best known works, the Symphony "From the New World". By 1895 he was back again in Prague, teaching at the Conservatory, of which he became director in 1901. He died two years later.

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, who had enjoyed similar success in a similar market with his Hungarian Dancesfor piano duet, published in 1869.

The second series of Slavonic Dances were written during the summer of 1886, and orchestrated during the winter. The task took him rather longer than the first series of eight dances had done, but Dvořák succeeded in continuing in the spirit that had informed the earlier set, adding eight dances that are in no way less inspired than the first eight.

While Brahms in his Hungarian Dances had generally offered arrangements of existing melodies, Dvořák offers something entirely original, although the Slavonic Dances are essentially in the musical language of Bohemia and neighbouring regions. As so often, he writes music that is utterly characteristic of the folk-music with which he was familiar, without resorting to direct quotation. Not only have the dances the rhythmic and melodic shape of folk-dances, but they are enhanced by subtlety of orchestration and by the use of additional subsidiary musical ideas to which over-familiarity should not blind us.

The forms of dance used include the very typical Furiant, as in the first and eighth dance, the Dumka, a Polka, the slowish country waltz of the Sousedská, the Skocná, with its hopping step and Serbian dances that had been absorbed into a living tradition of folk-dance.

The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, established as a professional orchestra in Bratislava (formerly Pressburg) in 1949, has won itself a considerable reputation during its relatively short existence.

Slovakia, which, with Bohemia and Moravia, became the Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1918, was the source of a great deal of music during the years of the Habsburg Empire. This musically fertile region has been influenced by Viennese, Hungarian and Bohemian music and it is these influences that have given the Slovak Philharmonic, one of Europe's finest orchestras, its unique character. On its many international tours, and at festivals throughout Europe, the orchestra has been praised for its great musicality and has been compared by  enthusiastic critics with such world-class orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic.

The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These included Vaclav Talich (1949- 1952), Ludovit Rajter and Ladislav Slovak. The Czech conductor Libor Pesek was appointed resident conductor in 1981, and the present Principal Conductor is the Slovak musician Bystrik Rezucha. Zdenek Kosler has also had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra and has conducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvořák.

During the years of its professional existence the Slovak Philharmonic has, worked under the direction of many of the most distinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugene Goossens and Malcolm Sargent to Claudio Abbado, Antal Dorati and Riccardo Muti.

The orchestra has undertaken many tours abroad, including visits to Germany and Japan, and has made a large number of recordings for the Czech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in recent years, for the Marco Polo and Naxos labels. These recordings have brought the orchestra a growing international reputation and praise from the critics of leading international publications.

Zdenék Košler
The Czech conductor Zdenék Košler studied under Karel Ancerl at the Prague Academy of Arts, and distinguished himself early in his career at the Besançon Conductors' Competition and in the Dimitri Mitropoulos Competition in New York. The first prize in the second of these enabled him to work as assistant conductor with Leonard Bernstein for one year.

In Czechoslovakia Košler began as conductor of the Prague opera ensemble, before becoming chief conductor and music director of the opera in Olomouc and Ostrava. He spent a short time as permanent conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, before moving to Berlin, where he was appointed Music Director of the Komische Oper in 1965. In 1971 he became chief conductor of the Slovak National Theatre Opera, undertaking engagements at the same time with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague, in addition to guest appearances with major orchestras abroad, in Europe, Canada and the Far East.

From 1980 until 1985 he was chief conductor and artistic director of the Prague National Theatre Opera. Kosler has received the highest national honour, the title National Artist from the Czechoslovakian government, while winning awards abroad for his recordings.


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