|About this Recording
8.553229 - DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 / BORODIN: Symphony No. 2
Alexander Porfir'yevich Borodin (1833 -1887)
Antonin Dvořák (1841 -1941)
Alexander Porfir'yevich Borodin was born in 1833, the illegitimate son of a Georgian prince, assuming, according to custom the surname and patronymic of one of his father's serfs. His mother later married a retired army doctor and he was brought up at home in cultured and privileged surroundings. Here he was able to develop his early interests in music, in the course of a general education that won him entry in 1850 to the Medico-Surgical Academy. His public career was as a scientist, from 1864 as a professor of chemistry at the Medico-Surgical Academy, and involved him in teaching and in research. In common with a number of contemporaries, he was only able to indulge his interest in music in his spare time, a fact that delayed his progress and left, at his death in 1886, a number of incompleted projects, to be assembled and finished by his friend Rimsky-Korsakov, who had resigned his commission in the navy to devote himself entirely to music, and Rimsky-Korsakov's pupil Alexander Glazunov.
The nineteenth century saw the development of nationalism throughout Europe. In Russia there was an intellectual reaction to the westernizing tendencies initiated by Peter the Great a century before, and in all the arts a move towards the creation of something specifically Russian. In music opinions were divided between a group of nationalist composers, the so-called Five, led by Balakirev, who had enjoyed a measure of professional training, and including, in addition to Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov, the expert on military fortification Céesar Cui and the alcoholic ex-army officer turned civil servant Mussorgsky. These nationalist composers gloried in their own relative amateurism, opposing strongly the establishment of professional conservatories in St. Petersburg and Moscow by the Rubinstein brothers, whom they regarded as representative of "German" music. The succeeding generation was able to provide a synthesis between these two rival movements, joining the professional training of the conservatories to Russian sources of inspiration.
The Symphony No.2 was started in 1869 and completed seven years later, the period of its composition coinciding very largely with Borodin's intermittent attention to work on Prince Igor. The music is thoroughly Russian in mood and the composer himself suggested in conversation with Stasov that the first movement represented some gathering of Russian warriors, the slow movement a Bajan and the last a crowd in festive mood. The opening movement is dominated by its forceful and ominous first theme. The Scherzo, slightly altered in its opening on the suggestion of Balakirev, who was always ready with advice, however inconsistent, shifts a semi-tone higher, as the repeated note C on the horns serves as the introduction of the new key of F major, much as the G flat chord that opens the Andante, with its moving horn solo, shifts the tonality to D flat, changing to C sharp minor at the start of the colourful B major finale. The symphony, in fact, is remarkable in its technical novelty, within the traditional symphonic framework, and constitutes an orchestral counterpart of Prince Igor, Polovtsian Dances and all.
Antonin 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 Komsak 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 also 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 1st May, 1904.
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 16th 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 Long fellow'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 Long fellow'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.
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
Close the window