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8.550600 - DVORAK: Overtures
Antonín Dvorák (1841 - 1904)
Antonín Dvorák 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.
Dvorák 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.
Dvorák at first earned his living in Prague playing the viola in a band led by Karel Komsák, 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 Dvorák's parallel work as a composer. In 1871 he found himself able to resign from the Provisional Theatre orchestra and to marry. At this time 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 Dvorák'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 Dvorák'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.
Dvorák's first attempt at opera came in 1870 on the improbable subject of Alfred the Great. This was followed by King and Collier, written in 1871, and finally rejected by Smetana, after initial rehearsals at the Provisional Theatre had demonstrated its impossibility. The Pig-headed Peasant, written in 1874, was only staged seven years later, before being withdrawn. The five-act opera Vanda occupied the composer for the second half of 1875, but again success eluded him. The subject of the opera, based on an event in Polish history, was remote enough from Dvorák's real gifts as a composer of opera, which became apparent, relatively speaking, in some of his later stage works, although these too failed to find a place in international repertoire, with the possible exception of Rusalka. The Overture to Vanda was the only part of the work to be published and is, in consequence, occasionally heard in the concert-hall.
The three overtures In Nature's Realm, Carnival and Othello have enjoyed much greater success. Originally given the titles Nature, Life and Love, these three works were intended as a trilogy of symphonic poems, the first of them dedicated to the University of Cambridge, from which Dvorák received an honorary doctorate in 1891, and the second to the University of Prague, from which he had received a similar honour a year earlier, the period of their composition. The three overtures are united thematically, by a recurrent pastoral theme, making its first appearance, appropriately in In Nature's Realm. The cheerful Carnival finds only a passing place for the theme, which assumes more importance in Othello, which has themes associated with jealousy and love, developed in the Allegro con brio that follows the introduction.
The overture My Home was written in 1881 as part of the incidental music Dvorák provided for the play Josef Kajetan Tyl by the playwright Samberk. The overture makes use of a song with words by Tyl, founder of the Czech Theatre and music by Skroup, a work music that later became the Czech national anthem.
Stephen Gunzenhauser, a graduate of Oberlin College and the New England Conservatory, served Igor Markevich and Leopold Stokowski as assistant conductor before becoming executive and artistic director of the Wilmington Music School in 1974. In 1979, he became conductor and music director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. He records exclusively for Naxos and Marco Polo and his recordings include works of Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Vivaldi, Mozart, Glière, and Liadov. In 1989/90 he recorded all nine Dvorák symphonies with the Slovak Philharmonic, as well as the three Borodin symphonies with the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra.
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