|About this Recording
8.553243 - FAMOUS SYMPHONIC POEMS, VOL. 1
Bedrich Smetana (1824 - 1884)
Antonín Dvorak (1841 - 1904)
Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957)
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)
Ma Vlast (My Country) is among the best known of all Smetana's music, a cycle of six symphonic poems that conjure up the spirit of Bohemia, its history and traditions, reflected in its landscape. The period of composition was one of some difficulty. By October 1874 Smetana was, for the moment at least, completely deaf and in continuous pain. By 18th November he had completed Vyehrad, the first symphonic poem of the cycle, which he may have started to sketch two years earlier. He immediately began work on the second, Vltava. At the same time he was completing his Czech opera Libue. In January he was able to begin the third symphonic poem of the cycle, sarka, followed, in June, by From Bohemia's Woods and Fields, the last of what had been intended as a tetralogy. The success of these works persuaded him to consider continuing the cycle, which he did with Tabor, completed by December 1878, and Blanik, finally orchestrated in March 1879. The whole work was dedicated to the city of Prague. These two additional movements were well received and in 1882 there was a performance in Prague of the whole cycle, greeted by audience and critics with the greatest enthusiasm.
Vltava, the River Moldau, follows the course of the river, where two streams, one cold, one warm, join the main stream, to flow through the Bohemian countryside, its woods with huntsmen, a peasant wedding, moonlight and dancing water-spirits, the rapids of St. John, and flowing on to join the Elbe. The sound of the water provides an element of unity to music that is broadly in rondo form, with the Vltava theme, perhaps derived from a Swedish folk-song, now epitomizing the spirit of Bohemia.
From Bohemia's Woods and Fields portrays the Bohemian landscape. Smetana suggested an outline programme, with the first strong impression of one arriving in the country, the sight of a simple country-girl walking through the fields, noon on a summer's day, with the shade of the woods, the singing of birds and a final harvest and festival in peasant celebration.
Four of the five symphonic poems of Dvorak are based on poems by Karel Jarmfr Erben; a collection of ballads published under the collective title of The Garland. The first of these, Vodnik, The Water Goblin, finds the malicious spirit of the title singing of his coming marriage on the following day. The girl he is to marry has been irresistibly drawn to the goblin in the water, although her mother has warned her not to go near the lake. As she approaches the water, the ground sinks beneath her feet and she is drawn down into the water, where she becomes the goblin's wife. In the depths of the lake she grows sad, since it is in this gloomy place that the goblin holds the souls of those who have drowned. She sings a song to her child in which she regrets what has happened. When the goblin hears her complaint, he is angry and threatens to change her into a fish, but is persuaded to allow her to return for one day to dry land, although he keeps her child as a hostage against her return. The girl and her mother are overjoyed that they are together again, and when the goblin angrily knocks at the door, he is turned away by the girl's mother .At this he raises a great storm, during the course of which something is hurled against the door of the house: it is the body of the child, its head cut from the body. The tragic and gruesome story is reflected in the musical narrative.
Jean Sibelius, a figure of the greatest importance in the music of Scandinavia and in the late romantic symphony, was born in Finland, of Finnish ancestry, but educated first, as befitted his social position as the son of a doctor, in Swedish. It was at school that he acquired his knowledge of Finnish literature, and particularly his fascination with the ancient sagas in which the legends of his country are recounted.
The year 1895 saw the first composition of a series of four episodes from the legend of Lemminkainen, from the epic Kalevala. The third of these, The Swan of Tuonela, was envisaged at first as the prelude to an opera, The Burning of the Boat, a project soon abandoned, after a visit by the composer to Bayreuth. Lemminkainen's Return formed the fourth section of a work that in later life Sibelius was to refer to as a symphony. The Swan of Tuonela, represented by the cor anglais, glides over the black waters that surround Tuonela, the land of the dead. Lemminkainen, a young hero, undergoes various adventures with Pohjola, the North Country, where he seeks a wife. He had tried to kill the Swan of Tuoni, but had perished in the attempt, only to be brought to life by the magic power of his mother.
Finlandia was written in 1899 as part of an unlikely Press Pensions Celebration. The three connected movements of the tone-poem express the spirit of Finland, using material that has all the appearance of a national origin, although the melodies are the creation of the composer.
Liszt's legacy as a composer is a remarkable one. As a performer he led the way to new feats of virtuosity, a fact that has led some to regard his work as nothing more than facile showmanship. Yet even in those popular transcriptions where an element of the meretricious may seem to predominate, there is evidence of a strong and extraordinary musical intelligence and originality. His influence on his contemporaries was considerable: subsequent generations have found in his music some justification for claims that he and Wagner put forward as propagators of the music of the future.
Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies, whatever their provenance, captured the interest of Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century. The very title Rhapsody was something new, and suggested the finer flights of imagination, untrammelled by the restrictions of the sonata. The second, twelfth in the original version for piano and dedicated to the violinist Joachim, has always been one of the most popular of the set orchestrated by Liszt in 1853 with the help of the conductor Franz Doppler, one of the founders of the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra, who visited him in Weimar in the following year.
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
Hungarian State Opera Orchestra
Close the window