About this Recording
8.572698 - DVORAK, A.: Symphony No. 6 / JANACEK, L.: Idyll (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz)

Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904): Symphony No 6 in D major, Op 60
Leoš Janáček (1854–1928): Idyll


Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904): Symphony No 6 in D major, Op 60 (1880)

Antonín Dvořák was born in Bohemia in 1841, the son of a butcher and innkeeper in the village of Nelahozeves, near Kralupy, some forty miles north of Prague. As the eldest son, it was natural that he should at first have been expected to follow the family trade. His musical abilities, however, soon became apparent and were encouraged by his father, who in later years abandoned his original trade to earn something of a living as a zither player. After primary schooling Antonín was sent to lodge with an uncle in Zlonice and was there able to acquire the necessary knowledge of German and improve his abilities as a musician, hitherto acquired at home in the village band and in 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, where he studied for the following two years.

On leaving the Organ School, Dvořák earned his living as a viola player in a band under the direction of Karel Komzak, an ensemble that was to form the nucleus of the Czech Provisional Theatre Orchestra, established in 1862. Four years later Smetana was appointed conductor at the theatre, where his operas The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride had already been performed. It was not until 1871 that Dvořák resigned from the orchestra, devoting himself more fully to composition, as his music began to attract favourable local attention. In 1873 he married a singer from the chorus of the theatre and in 1874 became organist of the church of St Adalbert. During this period he continued to support himself by private teaching, while busy on a series of compositions that gradually became known to a wider circle, particularly with the success of his Hymnus: Dědicové bílé hory (The Heirs of the White Mountain) for the Prague Hlahol Vocal Society.

Further recognition came to Dvořák in 1874, when his application for an Austrian government award brought his music to the attention of Brahms and the critic Eduard Hanslick in Vienna. The granting of this award for five consecutive years was of material assistance. It was through this contact that, impressed by Dvořák’s Moravian Duets entered for the award of 1877, Brahms was able to arrange for their publication by Simrock, who commissioned the Slavonic Dances for piano duet. The success of these publications introduced Dvořák’s music to a much wider public, for which it held some exotic appeal. As his reputation grew, there were visits to Germany and to England, where he was always received with greater enthusiasm than might initially have been accorded a Czech composer in Vienna.

In 1883 Dvořák had rejected a tempting proposal that he should write a German opera for Vienna. At home he continued to contribute to Czech operatic repertoire, an important element in re-establishing national musical identity. The invitation to take up a position in New York was another matter. In 1891 he had become professor of composition at Prague Conservatory and in the summer of the same year he was invited to become director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, an institution that was intended to foster American music, hitherto dominated by musicians from Europe or largely trained there. Whatever the ultimate success or failure of the venture, Dvořák’s contribution was seen as that of providing a blue-print for American national music, following the example of Czech national music, which owed so much to him. There were musical results in his own work, notably in his Symphony ‘From the New World’, and chamber music of the period, works that rely strongly on the European tradition that he had inherited, while making use of melodies and rhythms that might be associated in one way or another with America. By 1895 Dvořák was home for good, resuming work at the Prague Conservatory, of which he became director in 1901. His final works included a series of symphonic poems and two more operas, to add to the nine he had already composed. He died in Prague in 1904.

Dvořák wrote his Symphony No 6 in D major, Op 60 in 1880 for the conductor Hans Richter and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Unfortunately, the prejudices of certain members of the orchestra towards the Czechs and their unwillingness to include a work by a new Czech composer delayed the premiere. Adolf Čech, once the composer’s colleague in the St Cecilia Orchestra during student days, gave the first performance in Prague early in 1881. The following year August Manns conducted the symphony at a Crystal Palace concert in London, and three weeks later Richter, to whom the work was finally dedicated, added a further London performance of the work he had commissioned. The first Vienna performance was given in 1883 by Wilhelm Gericke for the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. The symphony is scored for the usual pairs of woodwind instruments, with piccolo, four horns, a pair of trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and strings.

The similarities between the symphony and Brahms’s work in the same key have been pointed out, although Dvořák’s symphony bears the stamp of his own genius at its height and may be heard as a tribute to the man who had earlier given him timely help in his career. The symphony opens with repeated accompanying chords played by horns and divided violas, above which the principal theme gradually appears. There is a superb slow movement in the key of B flat, followed by a Scherzo bearing the subtitle Furiant, a Czech peasant dance, with a contrasting trio, pierced by the piccolo in pastoral mood. The strings open the Finale with a long Brahmsian theme, joined by the wind and swelling soon to triumphant dimensions in a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

Leoš Janáček (1854–1928): Idyll (1878)

Janáček was born in 1854 in the northern part of Moravia, near the Polish frontier, a region that enjoys both linguistic and musical individuality. He was educated at the Augustinian school in Brno, the capital of Moravia, eventually succeeding to the position of organist that had been occupied by his teacher. Between 1874 and 1875 he studied at the Prague Organ School, where Dvořák had been a pupil sixteen years earlier, returning to Brno as conductor of the local Philharmonic Society. His lack of confidence in his own ability as a composer took him to Leipzig in 1878 for a further year of study, followed by similar activity in Vienna.

In 1881 Janáček opened a music school in Brno, and in the following years continued to write music, in 1886 dedicating a set of choral works to Dvořák, but in general enjoying only a very local reputation. His first opera, Šárka, met difficulties, since permission for the use of the poem on which it was based had not been granted by the author. Subsequent operas had a better fate, at least in Brno, but it was not until 1916 that the attention of the Prague National Theatre was drawn to his work, leading, largely by a series of lucky chances, to the performance there of the opera known as Jenůfa, that had first been staged in Brno in 1904. The last twelve years of Janáček’s life brought him fame in Czechoslovakia and elicited from him a series of five further operas, each as original in choice of libretto as in musical content.

The music of Janáček is dominated by his preoccupation with Moravian folk-song, the spirit of which informs his work. He had a particular interest in the musical inflections of speech and the melodic shape of natural sounds, while his theories of harmony were original, particularly in his sudden shifts of key. As a composer he only started his major work in middle age and always appeared as a musician of startling originality, in part through geographical isolation, at a distance from Vienna and even from Prague.

The first performance of Janáček’s Idyll, scored for string orchestra, was given under the composer in Brno on 15 December 1878. The programme included the Slavonic Dances of his friend Dvořák, who was present on this occasion, and the Idyll reflects various influences, not least that of Dvořák. The score was only published many years after Janáček’s death. The first movement opens with a strongly felt melody that suggests the ever-present elements of folk-music. The following ternary-form Allegro provides a delicate framework for a contrasting central Moderato. The third movement, in broadly the same form, with a central Con moto, a contrast with the sombre outer sections, leads to a strongly rhythmical fourth movement Allegro. The fifth movement has Adagio outer sections framing a central Presto and the sixth, Scherzo and Trio, the first a folk-style dance, relaxing into the Trio at its heart, before the dance returns. The whole work ends with a movement in rondo form.

Keith Anderson

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