About this Recording
8.550610 - DVORAK: Slavonic Rhapsodies Op. 45, Nos. 1 - 3

Antonín Dvorák (1841 - 1904)

Rhapsody Op. 14
Slavonic Rhapsodies Op. 45, Nos. 1, 2 & 3

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 was 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 Antonin 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 Dvorák 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 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.

This brief account of Dvorák's life ignores the considerable amount of music he wrote, compositions of much more diversity than is always apparent from modern concert programmes, which confine their attention to the unmistakably popular. Nevertheless even the most frequently played of his works are not staled by custom. The Slavonic Dances, for example, retain all their freshness and life, qualities shared by the more extended Slavonic Rhapsodies.

The Rhapsody in A Minor, variously numbered Opus 14, 15, 18 or 19, was conceived as a symphonic poem, a title it sometimes bears, on the model of Smetana's Vysehrad, with a nod towards the form of the symphonic poem developed by Liszt. The work was completed in the autumn of 1874 and published posthumously in 1912. In order of composition it follows the fourth of Dvorák's nine symphonies and the first half dozen of his fourteen string quartets, and is by no means the work of a novice. The Rhapsody, overtly nationalist in melodic content, shows a firm handling of the orchestra in a form that is occasionally inclined to the episodic.

The Slavonic Rhapsodies have a less immediate appeal. The first of them, in D Major, has been unkindly compared to an operatic selection, a comment on its structure and content. After a gentle, pastoral opening, the music moves on to a march that turns into a peasant dance and then to something more meditative, as the mood changes. After a passage of considerable activity, the Rhapsody ends as peacefully as it had begun.

Dvorák dedicated his three Slavonic Rhapsodies of 1878 to a critic, a rare expression of gratitude by a composer to a maligned profession, after an enthusiastic review of his first set of Slavonic Dances. Described as more Slav than rhapsody, the second of the set, in G minor, may lack the appeal of the more popular third, but offers music of characteristically vital energy, relaxing into an easy-going waltz, where a more academic composer might have preferred to develop the material.

The Third Slavonic Rhapsody, in A Flat Major, opens with a passage for the harp, the prelude to some bardic song, followed by the woodwind, deployed with Dvorák's usual skill. After this the violins enter with a flourish and the drama intensifies, before the appearance of a winning dance-tune. There is an interlude during which solo violin and solo flute lead back to the dance once more and further moments of brief repose, before the music whirls on to an ending that brings its own surprise.

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 Czecho-Slovakia 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.

As permanent conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Zdenék Košler has travelled widely. From 1980 until 1985 he was chief conductor and artistic director of the Prague National Theatre Opera to which he will return as chief conductor in 1990. He has received the highest national honour, the title National Artist, from the Czecho-Slovakian government, while winning awards abroad for his recordings.

Libor Pešek
Libor Pešek was born in 1933 and studied conducting at the Prague Academy of Musical Arts, later appearing at home and abroad with his own ensembles. For nine years he directed orchestras at Leeuwarden and Enschede in Holland and was for many years principal conductor of the Pardubice State Orchestra. After achieving considerable success as music director of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra in Bratislava, in 1982 he moved to Prague to become conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1988 he was appointed Principal Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These include Vaclav Talich (1949 - 1952), Ludovit Rajter, Ladislav Slovak and Libor Pešek. Zdenek Košler 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 Dvorak.

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 include works by Gliere, Spohr, Respighi, Rubinstein, Bax, Suchon and Miaskovsky and have brought the orchestra a growing international reputation and praise from the critics of leading international publications.

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