DVORAK: Ballad / Capriccio / Silent Woods (Edmund Battersby/ Zhou Qian) (Naxos: 8.554730)
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Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Music for Violin and Piano, Vol.2
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 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 Komzák, 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.
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 Dvořáks Moravian Duets entered for the award of 1877, Brahms was able to arrange for their publication by Simrock, who commissioned a further work, Slavonic Dances, for piano duet. The success of these publications introduced Dvořáks 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. With the backing of Jeanette Thurber and her husband, this institution 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, Dvořáks 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. The musical results of Dvořáks time in America must lie chiefly in his own music, notably in his Symphony From the New World, his American Quartet and American Quintet and his Violin Sonatina, 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 Dvoéák visited England for the first time, conducting there his Stabat Mater. A second invitation took him back to England, to Worcester, in the autumn. 1885 brought a third visit to London and it was on his return that he turned his attention to works of less importance, before a fourth journey to England to conduct The Spectres Bride at the Birmingham Festival and direct a tiring series of concerts. It was at this time, after his return from his third visit to London, that he wrote the Ballad in D minor, Opus 15, for violin and piano, an attractive work that opens with a long-drawn romantic melody, the frame of passages of greater intensity and narrative excitement.
It was in response to his publisher Simrocks request for something on the lines of the Hungarian Dances of Brahms that Dvoéák, in 1878, turned his attention to his first set of Slavonic Dances, for piano duet. A further set of eight dances followed in 1886 and both sets were orchestrated by the composer. The dances have proved popular in further arrangements, not least in the various practical versions for violin and piano made by the great Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler.
Klid (Silent Woods) is again an arrangement, taken this time from a set of piano duets, From the Bohemian Woods, Opus 68, written in 1884. Seven years later the composer arranged the fifth of these pieces for cello and piano and in 1893 for cello and orchestra. It is effective in an arrangement for violin and piano, evocative in the intensity of its outer framework, with a livelier central section.
The Mazurek in E minor, Opus 49, was written in 1879, originally for the Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate in a version for violin and small chamber orchestra. Well suited to its dedicatee, the work makes free use of the Polish dance of the title.
Dvoéáks Nocturne in B major, Opus 40, is, in its immediate origin, a work for strings, based on part of an unpublished String Quartet in E minor, written in 1870. This relatively early work has a sustained lyrical beauty about it, while generally lacking the Czech element that was a later feature of the composers musical language.
The Humoresque, Opus 101, No.7, was written for piano, one of a set of eight such pieces, completed in 1894 and derived from sketches he had made in America. The seventh of the set won immediate and lasting popularity, appearing in arrangement after arrangement. The same fame has always been enjoyed by Songs my mother taught me, from Gypsy Songs, Op.55, No.4, one of a set of seven gypsy songs written in 1880. The song proved effective both in its original form and in the many arrangements that followed.
Among works not published in the composers lifetime is the Capriccio, formerly Opus 49 and now listed as B 81 in the Burghauser thematic index. This has been tentatively dated to June 1878 and was arranged for publication in a version for violin and piano by Günther Raphael in 1929. A version for violin and orchestra is lost. The work is relatively substantial and of technical interest to a performer, while lacking the more distinctive features of Dvoéáks maturer style. It nevertheless ha