About this Recording
8.573558 - DVOŘÁK, A.: Mass in D Major / Te Deum (Biegas, Rodríguez-Cusí, Tomé, López, Orfeón Pamplonés, Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra, Wit)

Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)
Mass in D, Op. 86 • Te Deum, Op. 103


Antonín Dvořák was born in 1841, the son of a 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 at first have been expected to follow the family trade, as the eldest son. 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 he was sent to lodge with an uncle in Zlonice and was there able to acquire the necessary knowledge of German and to 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 blueprint 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.

In 1884 Dvořák visited England for the first time to conduct his Stabat Mater. A second invitation took him back to England, to Worcester, in the autumn, when the Stabat Mater was heard again. 1885 brought a third visit to London and his connection with England continued, particularly in choral works that were well suited to the flourishing traditions of choral music there.

Dvořák wrote his Mass in D, Op. 86, in 1887 for his friend, the Czech architect, patron and philanthropist Josef Hlavka, to be performed first for the consecration of the chapel at Lužany Castle, Hlavka’s country-house, on 1st September 1887. The occasion and liturgical circumstances of the composition involved relatively limited forces. The accompaniment was for organ, the first soprano part taken by Hladka’s wife and the mezzo-soprano taken by Dvořák’s wife, Anna, with the Pilsen Hlahol Choir. The work was directed by the composer. There was a public concert performance in Pilsen the following April. Dvořák’s usual publisher, Simrock, showed no interest in the work, which was published by Novello, who commissioned an orchestral version, first heard in 1892 at the Crystal Palace under August Manns, a testimony to the composer’s popularity in England, with its strong choral tradition. The new version was scored for pairs of oboes, bassoons and trumpets, three horns, three trombones, timpani, organ and strings, with four soloists and chorus.

The gently lilting Kyrie eleison leads to a change of key for the Christe eleison, entrusted at first to solo voices, to be followed by the return of the Kyrie and a fleeting reference to the Christe eleison in the closing bars. The Gloria, marked Allegro vivo, opens in a mood of jubilation. A fugal setting of Adoramus te, glorificamus te is launched by the basses, answered by the tenors and the women’s voices. There is a contrasting change to an Andante con moto for the solo voices, accompanied by the organ, deployed for the words Gratias agimus tibi, with a change of mood at the ensuing Allegro mosso, for Qui tollis peccata mundi. The initial Allegro vivo returns for the setting of Quoniam tu solus sanctus, with a final traditional contrapuntal Cum Sancto Spiritu. The setting of the Credo, its text partly shortened, has phrase after phrase first announced by a contralto soloist, echoed by the chorus. The first abridgement of the text is in the omission of ‘patrem omnipotentem’, and shortly afterwards the name of Christ is omitted. The setting of the Credo can pose something of a problem because of its length and relatively extended text. Dvořák’s version actually lengthens the text by repetition, each pronouncement of the soloist repeated emphatically by the chorus. The soloist continues, accompanied by the strings, in the Et incarnatus est, joined by the bass soloist and then by the chorus. The word Crucifixus is stressed by four hammered chords and the tenor soloist heralds the Resurrection, Et resurrexit tertia die. Et iterum venturus est proclaims a passage of fugal writing. The initial antiphonal pattern is resumed at Credo in Spiritum Sanctum. The Sanctus is given in a predominantly chordal setting for the chorus, leading to a triumphant climax for the Hosanna in excelsis. The Benedictus, marked Lento, is introduced by a passage for solo organ, followed by the chorus, accompanied by muted strings. The mood quickly changes for the exultant final Hosanna in excelsis. The Agnus Dei opens with the tenor soloist, followed by gentle textures in which the composer deploys soloists and chorus, bringing the work to a tranquil conclusion in the final prayer for peace.

Dvořák completed his setting of the Te Deum in 1892, in response to a Columbus quatercentenary commission from Jeanette Thurber, founder of the American National Conservatory in New York, where the work was first performed. It is scored for a full orchestra, soprano and bass soloists and chorus, and takes the unusual suggested form of a four-movement symphony. The hymn of praise opens with a proclamation reinforced by the timpani. The words Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth are taken up by the soprano soloist, with hushed interjections from the tenors and basses, before the return of the opening jubilation. Horns, trumpets and trombones start the second part of the work, marked Lento maestoso, the words Tu rex gloriae, Christe, given to the bass soloist, in a movement that brings short passages for female and then male voices. The third movement, marked Vivace, takes the place of a Scherzo and the setting ends with a movement that starts with a soprano solo, later joined by the bass soloist, and a final triumphant return to the celebration of the opening.

Keith Anderson

Close the window