Antonín Dvorák

Biography

Born: 1841   Died: 1904   Country: Czechoslovakia   Period: Romantic
Widely regarded as the most distinguished of Czech composers, Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904) produced attractive and vigorous music possessed of clear formal outlines, melodies that are both memorable and spontaneous-sounding, and a colorful, effective instrumental sense. Dvorák is considered one of the major figures of nationalism, both proselytizing for and making actual use of folk influences, which he expertly combined with Classical forms in Read more works of all genres. His symphonies are among his most widely appreciated works; the Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World," 1893) takes a place among the finest and most popular examples of the symphonic literature. Similarly, his Cello Concerto (1894-1895) is one of the cornerstones of the repertory, providing the soloist an opportunity for virtuosic flair and soaring expressivity. Dvorák displayed special skill in writing for chamber ensembles, producing dozens of such works; among these, his 14 string quartets (1862-1895), the "American" Quintet (1893) and the "Dumky" Trio (1890-1891) are outstanding examples of their respective genres, overflowing with attractive folklike melodies set like jewels into the solid fixtures of Brahmsian absolute forms.
Dvorák's "American" and "New World" works arose during the composer's sojourn in the United States in the early 1890s; he was uneasy with American high society and retreated to a small, predominantly Czech town in Iowa for summer vacations during his stay. However, he did make the acquaintance of the pioneering African-American baritone H.T. Burleigh, who may have influenced the seemingly spiritual-like melodies in the "New World" symphony and other works; some claim that the similarity resulted instead from a natural affinity between African-American and Eastern European melodic structures.
By that time, Dvorák was among the most celebrated of European composers, seen by many as the heir to Brahms, who had championed Dvorák during the younger composer's long climb to the top. The son of a butcher and occasional zither player, Dvorák studied the organ in Prague as a young man and worked variously as a café violist and church organist during the 1860s and 1870s while creating a growing body of symphonies, chamber music, and Czech-language opera. For three years in the 1870s he won a government grant (the Viennese critic Hanslick was among the judges) designed to help the careers of struggling young creative artists. Brahms gained for Dvorák a contract with his own publisher, Simrock, in 1877; the association proved a profitable one despite an initial controversy that flared when Dvorák insisted on including Czech-language work titles on the printed covers, a novelty in those musically German-dominated times. In the 1880s and 1890s Dvorák's reputation became international in scope thanks to a series of major masterpieces that included the Seventh, Eighth, and "New World" symphonies. At the end of his life he turned to opera once again; Rusalka, from 1901, incorporates Wagnerian influences into the musical telling of its legend-based story, and remains the most frequently performed of the composer's vocal works. Dvorák, a professor at Prague University from 1891 on, exerted a deep influence on Czech music of the twentieth century; among his students was Josef Suk, who also became his son-in-law. Read less

Work: Symphony no 8 in G major, Op. 88/B 163

 

About This Work
Dvorák had been embarrassed when mature works were issued as early ones, while his nationalism had been offended by the persistent Germanizing of his first name as "Anton." In 1889, no longer a naïf provincial, Dvorák Read more chose to interpret the offer of 1,000 Deutschmarks -- 5,000 less than he had paid for the instantly popular Seventh -- as publisher Fritz Simrock's first right of refusal, and sold his new Eighth to the British firm of Novello, who published it as No. 4. Novello considered it a privilege to buy the work; Simrock never repeated his mistake.

When Cambridge University honored Dvorák as a Doctor of Music in 1892, he submitted the Eighth Symphony as his obligatory "exercise." Thus it came to be called the "English" Symphony for many years, despite its obvious Czech grammar and diction -- Dvorák's declaration of independence, in fact, from Germanic influences in the first seven symphonies.

Dvorák united all four sections of the Eighth with a rising three-note figure, first heard in the opening measure of the opening movement; from this come the main themes there and in the finale. The work abounds in structural symmetries and subtleties, which reveal themselves once one becomes familiar with its charming Czech-rooted melodies and rhythms. Organization of this caliber is the handiwork of a master composer in complete control of what he wants to say and how to say it.

A melody in G minor, which returns later on before the development section and again (albeit altered in mood) before the recapitulation, is introduced in the Allegron con brio before G major arrives with the main theme, bird-like in character as played on the flute. Dvorák moves to E major for a gently contrasting second theme, then to B minor for a march-like third subject; but G major prevails at the end.

In the Adagio, duple meter replaces common time, while the key of C replaces G (C being the dominant of G). An ABAB structure begins quietly in C minor, but metamorphoses in the repeated sections suggest a variation-pattern with a wistful character.

Dvorák shocked purists by writing an Allegretto grazioso waltz movement, as Tchaikovsky had done in his Fifth Symphony a year earlier. It is, however, unmistakably a Slavonic waltz in G minor, whose G major trio lends itself even less to ballroom dancing, yet is a dance. After a repeat of the song section, a fast coda in 2/4 time sets up both the meter and the key of the finale.

Beethoven might have applauded Dvorák's theme and variations structure within a song and trio frame of the final Allegro ma non troppo. Following a trumpet fanfare, a two-part theme emerges whose halves are repeated, then four variations, all in G major. The trio is a three-part march in C minor, after which the fanfare returns with four more variations in tow.

-- Roger Dettmer, All Music Guide Read less

Select a specific Conductor, Ensemble or Label or browse recordings by Formats & Featured below

or
ArkivMusic Recommendation

ArkivCD:
$16.99
ArkivCD:  $16.99 Add to Cart



YOU MUST BE A SUBSCRIBER TO LISTEN - TRY IT FREE!
Listen to all your favorite classical music for only $20/month.
Sign up for your monthly subscription service and get unlimited access to the most comprehensive digital catalog of classical music in the world - new releases. bestsellers, advanced releases and more.
Aleady a subscriber? Sign In