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

Dvorák: Symphonic Poems, Overtures / Kuchar
Release Date: 03/01/2005   Label: Brilliant Classics  
Catalog: 92297   Number of Discs: 3
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Tchaikovsky, Dvorák: Serenades / Berglund, New Stockholm Co
Release Date: 03/25/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 243   Number of Discs: 1
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Janácek: Sinfonietta;  Dvorák: Legends / Järvi, Bamberg
Release Date: 09/26/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 436   Number of Discs: 1
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Dvorák: Symphonies Nos 7 & 8 / Chung, Gothenburg So
Release Date: 09/26/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 452   Number of Discs: 1
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Dvorák: Symphonies No 6 & 9 / Dausgaard,  Svenska Kammarorkestern
Release Date: 09/25/2007   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 1566   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Symphony no 7 in D minor, Op. 70/B 141

 

About This Work
Many consider Antonín Dvorák's Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70, the pinnacle of his achievement as a composer. Indeed, never before had he risen to such a height, and one can make a formidable case that he never again did, the immense Read more and just popularity of the "New World" Symphony notwithstanding. Dvorák had spent a full five years away from the symphonic domain when, in December 1884, he began plotting his course through the Symphony No. 7. The interval had been an important if not especially prolific one; the works of this period had been significant (for example the Piano Trio in F minor, Op. 65, the String Quartet No. 11 in C, Op. 61), and when the time came to compose the Symphony No. 7 Dvorák was prepared. The commission came from the London Philharmonic Society, to whose membership Dvorák had been elected in 1884.

The four-movement Classical plan was Dvorák's bread and butter as a composer. Here the movements are: Allegro maestoso, Poco Adagio, Vivace (the Scherzo), and Allegro.

A less likely main theme for a symphony than the wistful, lyric pianissimo idea offered by the violas and cellos at the opening of the first movement would be hard to come by. But it is not long before the drooping pendant at the end of the melody is converted, by means of some characteristic Dvorák hemiolas, into something far more electrifying, and from that point the movement is off and running. The second theme, in B flat major and introduced by a rich rising chromatic passage in the violins and woodwinds, has the aspect of a carefree summer day to it. The slow movement begins simply, contentedly -- the clarinet providing an airy tune that hovers between the keys of B flat and F major. There is, as the movement gradually reveals itself, passion enough. The hemiola-ridden main tune of the Scherzo, which is probably the most famous movement in the symphony, draws us into an extraordinary and compelling realm in which vivacious rhythm and undeniable melancholy are made to walk hand-in-hand.

Prominent augmented seconds and an abundant use of the raised fourth scale degree provide the finale's principal theme and the music around it with a peculiar and subtly exotic pungency. A major becomes the launching pad for a fluffy second theme in the cellos. The assertive quarter note thrusts of the symphony's final bars manage to break through the wall of D minor into the adjacent field of D major, and the matter ends in a blaze of glory.

-- Blair Johnston, All Music Guide Read less

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