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8.553699 - FIBICH: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2

Zdenek Fibich (1850 - 1900)

Zdenek Fibich (1850 - 1900)

Symphony No.1 in F major, Op. 17

Symphony No.2 in E flat major, Op. 38


The province of Bohemia had long been a rich source of music and musicians in the Habsburg Empire, of which, with Moravia, it had become part in 1526. The nineteenth century allowed the resurgence of nationalism in many countries. In Bohemia the political changes of 1848 proved largely disappointing, but there was at the same time a gradual movement towards the encouragement of Czech currents in the arts, with an official use of the Czech language which still met recurrent and at times successful opposition from the Pan-German party. In music Bedrich Smetana played an important part in the development of a sense of national identity, reflected particularly in his operas and in his tone-poem cycle Ma Vlast. A figure of still greater importance was Antonin Dvorak, with music that was imbued with the spirit of his native region.


Zdenek Fibich was born in 1850 in Vseborice near Caslav, the son of a senior forestry official and of a German-speaking mother from Vienna, the latter his early teacher. His schooling was German, in Chrudim and in Vienna, before study in 1862 and 1863 at the Czech Gymnasium in Prague. At home he had learned the piano with his mother and in 1862 had written his first composition and after his studies at the Gymnasium he briefly became a student in a private music school, writing composition after composition. In 1865 he entered the Leipzig Conservatory, where his uncle Felix Dreyschock, concertmaster of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and younger brother of the pianist and composer Alexander Dreyschock, court pianist in St Petersburg and professor of piano at the Conservatory, was professor of violin. Fibich studied at the Leipzig Conservatory with Moscheles, the Thomascantor Ernst Friedrich Richter and Liszt's pupil Salomon Jadassohn. In 1868 and 1869 he spent eight months in Paris and continued his education, finally, at Mannheim in 1870 as a pupil of Vinzenz Lachner. Thereafter, after a short time at his parents' house, he moved to Prague, where he settled, after a year spent in Vilnius, following his marriage. In 1874 he returned to Prague and after the death of his two children and his wife married his sister-in-law, a contralto soloist at the opera. He earned his living at first as chorus-master and deputy conductor at the Provisional Theatre and for three years, from 1878, as choirmaster at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. After this he devoted himself to his work as a composer, holding no official positions in the Prague musical establishment until the last year of his life, when he served as dramaturg at the Prague National Theatre. By this time he had parted from his wife and their son, to join his pupil Aneika Schulzova, eighteen years his junior and the author of the libretti of his last three operas. His relationship with her in the 1890s is reflected in piano pieces of the time, notably Nalady, dojmy a upominky (Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences), their romantic and anatomical significance made clear in his annotations on the manuscripts. He died in 1900 and Aneika Schulzova outlived him by a mere five years.


As a composer, as in speech and background, Fibich was very much more part of German cultural tradition than of Czech, although he came to occupy a position between the two. His first operas were to German libretti and the eight surviving operas include in their dramatic sources the work of Schiller, Byron and Shakespeare, with the stage melodrama trilogy Hippodamia drawing on Sophocles and Euripides, using Czech libretti. He contributed to the repertoire of concert melodrama, to that of German and Czech song and to the list of tone-poems, in this last anticipating Smetana in his patriotic Zaboj, Slavoj a Ludek, as he anticipated the symphonic poems of Dvorak. Fibich was prolific as a composer and contributed to all major forms of music. His position in Czech music, however, has had a certain ambiguity. His German training, which guaranteed a sound technique, and, perhaps, his parentage, language and background, makes him very much less identifiably Bohemian than either Smetana or Dvorak. He remains, nevertheless, one of the most important Czech romantic composers of the later nineteenth century.


Fibich had made his first attempts at the composition of symphonies as a student, in 1865 and 1866. The first of the complete mature symphonies is the Symphony in F major, Opus 17. This was written between 1877 and 1883 and audiences might be forgiven for detecting a whiff of Sibelius about the opening, with its woodwind motif, taken up by the strings and the French horns, with further thematic material tinged by the atmosphere of Bohemia's woods and fields and duly developed, to return in recapitulation, resolved in the reminiscences of the final coda. The second movement is a Scherzo, marked Allegro assai, where traces of Mendelssohn's Leipzig fairies may be detected in music that is playful and light-hearted. The Trio, marked Poco meno vivace, turns again to Bohemia, with a duple-metre polka, gently linked to the returning Scherzo. The third movement is marked Adagio non troppo, with the additional suggestion alla romanza. This opens like some melancholy ballad, framing a central passage marked Poco andante, a brief shaft of sunlight. The Finale offers immediate strong contrast in its principal theme that returns between contrasting episodes.


Fibich's Symphony No.2 in E flat major, Opus 38, was completed in the years 1892 and 1893, the period that marked the start of his affair with Aneika Schulzova. A motto theme is heard first from the French horns, in the opening Allegro moderato. This provides the unifying principle on which the symphony is based, starting with a broadly monothematic first movement in which the material is fully explored. The slow movement recalls the start of the composer's love affair with Aneika Schulzova in thematic material found in the piano pieces of the period. The lyrical principal theme gives way to a more sinister central episode, before a solo violin makes way for the first theme again. The Scherzo, placed third, as in the following symphony, is marked Presto and starts with a trumpet motif, introducing music of great vitality and joy, subtly related to the thematic material proposed in the first movement.


The Trio is marked Molto meno mosso, dying away as the trumpet heralds the Scherzo once more. The symphony ends with a Finale marked Allegro energico. The music is again related to the motto theme and as it proceeds finds a place for a reminiscence of the slow movement. Initially it unfolds with the expected vigour, providing a framework for varied episodes, leading to the emphatic conclusion of what has been described as the first Czech cyclic symphony.




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