Klassik  Sinfonische Musik
Ivan Anguélov & Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra Antonín Dvorák: The 9 Symphonies OC 376 5 CD
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Format5 Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 376
Release date04/01/2005
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Dvorák, Antonín

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      “A contemporary Dvorˇák sound” – that was the goal of Ivan Anguélov when completing this recording of all Dvorˇák symphonies. Anguélov has been working with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra – the oldest orchestra of Slovakia – as a permanent guest conductor since 1998.
      Special Price:5 CDs for the price of 4 CDs

      “The Bohemian Brahms” – Antonín Dvorák’s symphonic works

      Antonín Dvorák’s path to becoming a nationalistic Czech composer celebrated around the world was arduous. Born in 1841 in a small town near Prague, Nelahozeves (formerly Mühlhausen an der Moldau), the son of a pub owner was the eldest of nine children and had a lively and talented nature and insistent impulse to express himself. This was coupled, however, with a relatively low level of education. In contrast to his later symphonic colleagues, he thus found himself on the outside looking in on agitated musical developments which loved to refer to literary, philosophical and sociopolitical trends. A farmer boy had no idea of such matters. His honest but provincial teachers were also no help. In comparison: Bruckner, a somewhat similar case, had the luck of being born into an Upper Austrian family of teachers, Brahms came from a city in the Hanseatic League, Tchaikovsky’s family was landed gentry and Smetana was a child of the well-to-do Bohemian middle class.

      Dvorák wasn’t even successful at convincing his father to let him become a composer – a desire he had harbored from a young age. Only after completing an apprenticeship as a butcher was he allowed to attend the organ school in Prague in 1857. The years during which Dvorák learned the most, however, were his first years in the Prague St. Cecilia orchestra and his ten years as a viola player in the Interim theater in the same city. He began – as be.t not only his financial situation, but his desire to learn and his vigorous attitude as well – as a practitioner. Practitioners seldom seek to overthrow convention. This meant that Antonín Dvorák was more a composer who perfected the symphonic tradition of the 19th century than a revolutionary new art-visionary.

      But this was in no way detrimental for his career: in 1875 he received his first scholarship. The jury members included Johannes Brahms, who upon hearing Dvorák’s work, wrote to the Simrock publishing house recommending that they print the younger composer’s Moravian Duets, op. 32 and other pieces such as his Slavonic Dance, op. 46. After circa 1878, the two composers were friends. Interest in Dvorák’s music began spreading rapidly, first in Europe, then in the USA. The composer undertook many thoroughly successful concert tours. In 1891 he was appointed to teach composition at the Prague Conservatory. One year later, Jeanette M. Thurber approached him with an offer to head the New York National Conservatory. After some hesitation, Dvorák agreed. In 1895, however, he returned to the Prague Conservatory, which he directed from 1901 until his death in 1904.

      Even during his lifetime, Antonín Dvorák was famed as the “Bohemian Brahms” due to his successful union of absolute music with Slavic folklore in much of his oeuvre. Between 1865 and 1893 he composed nine symphonies, an accomplishment which has given him a reputation as one of the preeminent representatives of this genre during the second half of the 19th century. While the clear in.uence of composers from Beethoven to Wagner is highly evident in his .rst four symphonies, after that Dvorák .nally developed his own independent style by including the idioms of his Bohemian homeland. The most well known of his nine symphonies is the “New World” Symphony in E minor, op. 95.

      The early symphonies

      Although the Prague organ school Dvorák attended as a teenager was primarily oriented to training organists and church cantors and did teach the basics of harmony and counterpoint, it did not include any instruction in composition per se. Dvorák later wrote about this in a letter to the editor of the New York Herald: “It wasn’t that I was incapable of producing music, but I didn’t have enough technique to express everything that was inside of me. I had ideas, but could not articulate them.”

      Virtually self-taught, Dvorák was very bold, however. His .rst symphonic attempt in early 1865, the Symphony No. 1 in C minor, uses exactly the same sequence of keys as does Beethoven’s Fifth. In addition, there are numerous motivic correspondencies between the individual movements. Three years later, the composer burned almost all of his youthful compositions. The Symphony No. 1 escaped this fate, however, as Ivan Anguélov reports in his interview. Whether or not the work’s subtitle “The Bells of Zlonice”, which the listener seems to hear at the beginning of the symphony, was written by Dvorák himself or later added anonymously, remains a mystery. In any event, the piece does hint at the Bohemian landscape where the butcher apprentice Dvorák decided – after a long inner struggle – to follow his actual desires and become a composer. Very self-critical, he may have believed this symphony to be too dilettantish to have any possible use – especially as he later believed it to be lost. In 1879 he used much of the thematic material from the First in his piano work Silhouettes.

      Dvorák’s affinity to Beethoven is easy to hear in his first symphonies: the technique of splitting motives into even smaller parts, the increased importance and activity of the middle voices and bass as well as the – for the most part – leading role of the violins and the impulse to lapidary but productive, sometimes even chordal thematic material. The in.uence of Mozart and Schubert is clear in the woodwind lines, overlong final sections and harmony. Late in the summer of 1865, Dvorák wrote his Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major, op. 4, a much better-planned work, but one which wasn’t premiered until 1888 by the Prague National Theater Orchestra under Adolf Cech. The Second does contain some autobiographical references, e.g. a brief romance with the two Cermák sisters, the younger of whom, Anna, Dvorák married in 1873. The work’s three-part Poco Adagio is a nocturne in G minor which doesn’t shy away from the 12/8-rhythm of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pastorale. Not until the 1880s did Dvorák .nd the score to this symphony – which he also thought had been lost – and undertake some revisions on it.

      During the eight year break between the Symphony No. 3 from 1873 and its predecessor, Dvorák not only wrote many other compositions but also exhaustively studied the works of Wagner and Liszt. The result: emphatic thematic material, through-composed motives, chromaticism, polished writing for brass, use of more instruments (English horn, tuba, harp, triangle) as well as occasional reminiscences of Tannhäuser – but with a Bohemian accent! Dvorák did, however, smooth out some of the colors, melodic gestures and methods of interlinking musical material he observed in his models. The Czech composer, straightforward in the best sense of the word, was not particularly convinced by the “new German” way of thinking, nor by Liszt’s forays into the literary or Wagner’s threatening worldview. Bedrich Smetana, the Bohemian “outpost” of the Lisztschool and Dvorák’s senior by 17 years, did warm to the younger man’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major. Smetana conducted its premiere on March 30, 1874 in the Prague Philharmonic. Dvor.ák was in the audience and heard one of his symphonies for the first time.

      He wrote his Symphony No. 4 in D Minor in only three months that same year, during an intensive period of creative activity. Not only is this work the darker counterpart to the emphatic Third Symphony, it also provides a premonition of the composer’s more balanced middle-period symphonies. Certainly, many of Liszt and Wagner’s innovations achieved their .rm place in music history, but Dvor.ák was a master at synthesizing the “new German” school with his own somewhat simpler musicality. Instead of formal experiments and the search for new forms for the .rst and last movements, he used classical sonata form with its clear structures. His orchestration is less complicated; on the other hand, Dvor.ák gets a clearer, more colorful sound. Interestingly enough, the third movement, a fresh Scherzo, was premiered by Smetana on May 25, 1874 in Prague. Dvor.ák, on the other hand, later revised the whole symphony and only presented it in its entirety in 1892, shortly before he left for America.

      The middle symphonies

      Dvor.ák wrote his Symphony No. 5 in F Major in very short order, between June 15 and July 23, 1875, then dedicating it to Hans von Bülow. Visibly moved, the great conductor wrote to Dvor.ák: “Most highly honored master! A dedication from you – next to Brahms the most supremely gifted composer of our generation – is a higher honor than any cross of merit from any prince. I accept this tribute with my sincerest thanks. With the highest esteem from your most faithful servant and admirer, Hans Bülow (Hamburg, November 25, 1887). The Fifth Symphony is sometimes called Dvor.ák’s “Pastorale”, for one because of its key, the same as Beethoven’s Pastorale, but also because the composer’s use of rustical melodies reaches its climax. The jubilant mood in the .rst three movements gives way to much more dramatic elements in the last movement, which foreshadow the tumultuous currents just below the surface of the seeming idylls of nature. At the very end, however, the elation expressed in the beginning of the symphony returns, brought about by a quote from the introduction. The symphony now ends with the same pleasant atmosphere it started with. The premiere did not take place until four years after Dvor.ák .nished the score: March 25, 1879 in Prague, conducted by Adolf Cech. Dvor.ák had revised the orchestration a number of times by then.

      The bucolic character of the Symphony No. 6 in D Major is entirely balanced. In November 1879, Dvor.ák was commissioned by the Vienna Philharmonic – headed at the time by the famous conductor Hans Richter, who had premiered Wagner’s Ring cycle three years earlier in Bayreuth – to write a new symphony. This was both a considerable honor as well as a welcome stimulus. In the fall of 1880, he began composing, completing the symphony barely two months later. The speed at which Dvor.ák worked illustrates his enormous creativity and spontaneity when bringing his extraordinarily beautiful musical inspirations to paper. The result was an individually colored, magically direct and thoroughly buoyant piece. But the premiere planned for 1880 under Hans Richter in Vienna did not take place due to political tensions. Some members of the Vienna Philharmonic flatly refused to perform the work of a Slavic composer. The audience at the Prague premiere on March 25, 1881, however, was euphoric. The conductor, Adolf Cech, even had to repeat the third movement, a Furiant – an exuberant, bustling Czech dance – on the spot.

      Dvor.ák finally dedicated the score to Hans Richter, one of his most loyal champions, who responded no less emotionally than had Hans von Bülow: “My dearest and most admirable friend! I just returned from London and found your wonderful work, whose dedication makes me truly proud. I can hardly express my thanks enough in words; I wish to prove to you how much I treasure your words as well as the honor of your dedication with a performance worthy of this noble symphony …” (Vienna, January 26, 1882). Soon after, Hans Richter conducted the symphony in London in front of a likewise enthusiastic audience. Even though the Sixth is slightly overshadowed by the last three major symphonies, its synthesis of Dvor.ák’s “Slavic phase” as well as its function as a bridge to the composer’s late period makes it an important milestone in his artistic career.

      The three last symphonies

      The Symphony No. 7, composed during 1884/85 for the London Philharmonic Society, resembles the Fourth in mood and key: a dark, passionate D minor. One could say that it is Dvorák’s “Pathetique”. This piece runs counter to the famous saying by the Vienna music critic Eduard Hanslick, that “…in Dvorák’s music the sun always shines.” The optimism and joy found in the previous two symphonies are no longer present in the Seventh. In their place, one senses a disquiet which increases to resolute de.ance. It is clear that Dvorák is working out various personal problems in this music. One cause was the death of his mother, but even more was the con.ict between his own patriotic convictions and the repeated demands of Czech critics that he take up musical themes that would be more comprehensible to audiences in other nations.

      Nevertheless, the composer intensi.ed his expressivity through sparing orchestration; at times the brass is solely harmonic .ller. Dvorák’s empathy with Brahms (c. f. the Third Symphony) goes as far as a quote (the B-flat major subject of the first movement); in the secondary themes of the F major Adagio we hear faint reminiscences of Wagner for the last time in a Dvorák symphony. The composer worked on this score around the turn of the year 1884/85, immediately after completing the opera Dimitri and the cantata The Spectre’s Bride, whose momentum and emotion reverberate in the symphony. The piece had been commissioned by the London Philharmonic Society – a great honor for the composer – especially because it was coupled with an honorary membership in the respectable institution for which Beethoven had written his Ninth Symphony. Dvorák wanted to write a composition which would “move the world”, which motivated him to work very fast. On April 22, 1885, he conducted the frenetically applauded premiere in London’s St. James Hall himself. After his return to Prague he revised the work slightly, shortening a passage in the slow movement. It was in this new form that the work was heard in its Prague premiere on November 29, 1885.

      The relationship of the Seventh to the Eighth is like that of tension to resolution. The Symphony in G Major, written in the key frequently avoided by Romantic composers because it so harks back to folk music, is Dvorák’s most interesting, “modern” score – a work full of well-dosed anomalies, selfimmersed lyricism, diatonic simplicity and the relaxed sound of chamber music. Its melodic linearity predates Gustav Maher, who was both a great admirer as well as expert interpreter of Dvorák. As Mahler himself did later, Dvorák uses song as quasi the underpinning of his symphony: a song-symphony without words. But his disentangled, intimate orchestral sound, renunciation of pathetic chromaticism, and basic lyricism attest to the fact that Dvorák was no simple farm boy or conservative paint-by-number composer, but that he had thoroughly understood the problematic of the symphonic genre on the threshold from the 19th to 20th centuries.

      Dvorák created this work in fall 1889 in the inspiring environment of his summer house in Vysoká (near Pr¡íbram). The composer’s musical language is universal: it recounts the beauty of a summer morning when the .rst rays of the sun touch the tips of the trees and melt the morning mist. The joy of an active life is just as much subject of the Eigth Symphony as is a certain masculine pride. We hear emotional exuberance and music rich in .ne shadings of mood as well as sudden contrasts. Undertones of Bohemian and Slavic folk tunes act as the piece’s cantus .rmus. Dvorák conducted the premiere himself on February 2, 1890 in the Prague Rudol.num. Because the composer reached no agreement with his publisher, Simrock, over the amount of his fee, he ended up publishing the score through Novello in London. This led to the work becoming known as “The English” – a complete contradiction to the clear Czech character of the music!

      “The Americans expect big things of me,” said Dvorák, who assumed directorship of the New York National Conservatory in 1892 as well as duties teaching composition. “… above all, I should show them the path to the promised land and into the kingdom of a new, independent art – in short, create a national music! When the small Czech people has such a music, why should the Americans also not have something similar, when their country and numbers are so great!” As a composer who had achieved fame writing nationalistic music, he was seen as a potential founder of genuine American music.

      Dvorák’s creative spirit responded immediately to the challenge. His notebook .lled rapidly with musical ideas for a new symphony. He used a catchphrase as the title of his first work written on American soil: “From the New World”, but this doesn’t reveal any orientation in content, as many people assumed. On the controversy regarding to what extent Dvorák literally included Native American Indian music in his symphony, he said, “I have used none of these melodies directly. I have simply written my own melodies and included some of the characteristics of American Indian music in these. I then took these themes and reworked them using all means of modern rhythm, harmony, counterpoint and orchestration.” The process of sifting out the essentials of the folkloristic and using them for symphonic purposes was thus exactly what he had done with Czech music. Dvorák intensively studied the music of Indians and Blacks. Henry Thacker Burleigh opened up the world of the latter to him, and he became extremely well acquainted with Negro spirituals and the secular songs of plantation slaves.

      The music of the Symphony No. 9 in E Minor can be characterized as the subjective feelings of a composer who perceived the rich and variegated impressions of an unknown environment through the prism of his own soul and then reshaped them, giving them a new artistic quality. Since its celebrated premiere on December 16, 1893 in New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Ninth has taken its rightful place among European Romantic masterpieces. The audience response was so enormous that the Czech composer became the most popular man in New York virtually overnight. One can only concur with Dvorák-expert and longtime head of the Prague Philharmonic, Václav Neumann, when he says, “Yes, this is the most magni.cent symphony in all of Czech music.”

      Richard Eckstein
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      Fotos: Oli Rust

      Tracklist hide

      hide CD 1
      • Symphony No. 1 in C minor
        Symphony No. 3 in E Flat major op. 10
        more CD 2
        • Symphony No. 2 in B . at major op. 4
          Bohemian Suite in D minor op. 39
          more CD 3
          • Symphony No. 4 in D minor op. 13
            Symphony No. 8 in G major op. 88
            more CD 4
            • Symphony No. 5 in F major op. 76
              Symphony No. 9 in E minor op. 95 “From the New World”
              more CD 5
              • Symphony No. 6 in D major op. 60
                Symphony No. 7 in D minor op. 70