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8.110901 - DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 (Kleiber) / Cello Concerto (Feuermann, Taube) (1929)
Antonin Dvorak (1841 -1904)
Antonin Dvorak 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, Dvorak 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 unti11871 that Dvorak 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 Dvorak 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 Dvorak 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, Dvorak 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.
Dvorak 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.
Dvorak 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.
The Cello Concertos of Antonin Dvorak and Sir Edward Elgar represent the summit of romantic achievement in the form. The concertante cello found a place in later Baroque repertoire, with solo cello concertos by Vivaldi, Tartini and others, leading to the classical concertos of composers in Mannheim, Vienna and Berlin and the concertos of Haydn and Boccherini. It was not until 1850 that the cello concerto received the attention of major romantic composers, with Robert Schumann's Cello Concerto of that year. Brahms paired the instrument with the violin in his Double Concerto of 1887, but it was Dvorak who in 1895 first provided a concerto in which the solo cello forms an essential part of a full symphonic texture.
Dvorak wrote his B minor Cello Concerto, his second attempt at the form, in America during the winter months of his new contract, at the request of his colleague in Prague, the cellist Hanus Wihan. After his return home, Wihan suggested various changes, including additional cadenzas written by himself, but these Dvorak adamantly rejected. The first performance of the concerto took place not in Prague but at the Queen's Hall in London on 19th March 1896, with the English-born cellist Leo Stern, who played the work on subsequent tours. Wihan first performed the concerto in public three years later, although he had in fact been the first to play through the work with the composer in the previous August. In June, after his return from America, the composer had already rewritten the ending of the work.
The first movement of the concerto opens with an orchestral exposition, the first theme played by the clarinets and restated emphatically by the rest of the orchestra before the appearance of the second theme, introduced by a solo French horn. The solo cello enters with the first theme, subject thereafter to a number of improvisatory variations, before the soloist plays the second subject. In the central development section remoter keys follow, the cello playing the principal theme in a poignantly slower version, and providing an accompaniment to further variations by the wind instruments of the orchestra. The soloist finally ushers in the last section with a repetition of the second theme, an unexpected turn of events. It is, however, the first theme that re-appears to end the movement. The slow movement opens with the principal theme played by the clarinet, accompanied by bassoons and oboes. The theme is then taken up by the solo cello. A middle section, in marked dramatic contrast, makes use of the opening phrase of a song written by Dvorak in 1887. The principal theme appears again, played by three French horns, to be followed by a cello cadenza and a brief coda. The finale of the concerto is in free rondo form, its principal theme finally appearing in its full form when the soloist enters. This theme serves as a link between a series of episodes, rich in variety and in opportunities for the soloist. The extended coda includes a reference to the opening of the first movement, played by the clarinets before the triumphant conclusion of the whole work.
Staatsoper, a position he held unti11934, when he resigned in protest at National Socialist cultural and racial policies. Thereafter he enjoyed an international career, particularly in South America, resuming his activities in Europe after 1945, in particular at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden A proposed appointment in Vienna came to nothing and political interference led him to reject reinstatement to the Berlin Staatsoper in the Eastern zone of the city. He died in Zurich in 1956.
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