DVORAK: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 6 (Martin Sauer/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/ Stephen Gunzenhauser) (Naxos: 8.550268)
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Antonin Dvorak (1841 - 1904)
Symphony No.3 in E Flat Major, Op. 10
Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60
Antonin Dvorak was born in 1841, theson of a village butcher and innkeeper in the village of Nelahozeves, near Kralupy, inBohemia, and some forty miles north of Prague. It was natural that he should follow theexample of his father and grandfather by learning the family trade, and to this end heleft school at the age of eleven. There is no reliable record of his competence inbutchery, but his musical abilities were early apparent, and in 1853 he was sent to lodgewith an uncle in Zlonice, where he continued an apprenticeship started at home, learningGerman and improving his knowledge of music, rudimentary skill in which he had alreadyacquired at home and in the village band and church. Further study of German and of musicat Kamenice, a town in northern Bohemia, led to his admission, in 1857, to the PragueOrgan School, from which he graduated two years later.
In the years that followed, Dvorakearned his living as a viola-player in a band under the direction of Karel Komzak whichwas to form the nucleus of the Provisional Theatre Orchestra, established in 1862. Fouryears later Smetana was appointed conductor of the opera-house, where his Czech operas TheBrandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride had already been performed. It wasnot until 1871 that Dvorak resigned from the theatre orchestra, to devote more time tocomposition, as his music began to draw some favourable local attention. Two years laterhe married and early in 1874 became organist of the church of St. Adalbert. During thisperiod he continued to support himself by private teaching, while busy on a series ofcompositions that gradually became known to a wider circle.
Further recognition came in 1875 withthe award of a Ministry of Education stipendium by a committee in Vienna that included thecritic Eduard Hanslick and Brahms. The following year Dvorak failed to win the award, butwas successful in 1877. His fourth application brought the personal interest of Hanslickand Brahms and a connection with Simrock, the latter's publisher, who expressed a wish topublish the Moravian Duets and commissioned a set of Slavonic Dances for piano duet. Thesecompositions won particular popularity. There were visits to Germany and to England, wherehe was always received with greater enthusiasm than a Czech composer would ever at thattime have won in Vienna. The series of compositions that followed secured him anunassailable position in Czech music and a place of honour in the larger world.
Early in 1891 Dvorak became professorof composition at Prague Conservatory. In the summer of the same year he was invited tobecome director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, a venture which, it washoped, would lay the foundations for American national music. The very Bohemian musicalresults of Dvorak's time in America are well known. Here he wrote his Ninth Symphony, Fromthe New World, its themes influenced, at least, by what he had heard of indigenousAmerican Indian and Negro music, his American Quartet
and a charming sonatina for violin and piano. In 1895 he returned home to his work at thePrague Conservatory, writing in the following year a series of symphonic poems and beforethe end of the century two more operas, to add to the nine he had already composed. Hedied in Prague in 1904.
Dvorak's nine symphonies span aperiod of nearly thirty years. The first two were written in 1865, and the last in 1893.
Both the numbering of the symphonies and the opus numbers assigned to them have causedsome confusion. The first four symphonies were originally omitted from the list, so thatthe last five were numbered, although not in order of composition, the basis of the moreusual numbering today. Opus numbers were also manipulated to some extent, a simplesubterfuge to outwit Simrock by allocating earlier opus numbers to new compositions, onwhich he would otherwise have had an option.
Third Symphony was written in 1872 and probablyscored the following year. It was first performed at a Philharmonic concert in Prague in1874, the first of the symphonies that the composer had heard played. The symphony isscored for an orchestra that includes piccolo and cor anglais, in addition to pairs offlutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and trumpets, four horns, three trombones, timpani,triangle and strings. A harp is used in the slow movement and a tuba added in the finale.
The work is in only three movements and shows the continuing influence of Wagner in itsinstrumental writing.
The choice of the key of E flat hasled some to seek comparisons with Beethoven's EroicaSymphony, in the same key. There is a broad parallel in the suggestions of afuneral march in the C sharp minor second movement, interrupted by a D flat major sectionwith its harp accompaniment and busy accompanying figuration for divided violas andcellos. The finale, announced by the timpani, might suggest in mood, if not in structure,the work of Beethoven, dominated by the jaunty rhythm of its principal theme, withsuggestions of Wagner at moments of dramatic climax.
Dvorak wrote his Sixth Symphony for the conductor Hans Richter andthe Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1880, but the prejudices of certain members of theorchestra towards the Czechs and their unwillingness to allow the inclusion of a new workby a new Czech composer so soon after the successful performance in 1879 of the third Slavonic Rhapsody allowed Adolf Cech, once thecomposers colleague in the St. Cecilia Orchestra during student days, to give thefirst performance in Prague early in 1881. The following year August Manns conducted thesymphony at a Crystal Palace concert in London, and Richter added a further Londonperformance of the work he had commissioned three weeks later. The first Viennaperformance was given in 1883 by Wilhelm Gericke for the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.
The symphony is scored for the usual pairs of woodwind instruments, four horns, a pair oftrumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani and strings.
Attention has been drawn tosimilarities between the D major Symphony
and the symphony by Brahms in the same key, although Dvorak's work bears the indeliblestamp of his own genius at its height and may be heard as a tribute to the man who hadearlier given him timely help in his career. The symphony opens with repeated accompanyingchords played by horns and divided violas, above which the principal theme graduallyappears. There is a superb slow movement in the key of B flat, followed by a scherzobearing the subtitle furiant, a Czech peasant dance, with a contrasting trio, pierced bythe piccolo in pastoral mood. The strings open the finale with a long drawn Brahmsiantheme, joined by the wind and swelling soon to triumphant dimensions in a thoroughlysatisfying conclusion.
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra hasbenefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These include VaclavTalich (1949 - 1952), Ludovit Rajter, Ladislav Slovak and Libor Peek. Zdenek Koslerhas also had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra and has conductedmany of its most successful recordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvorak.
During the years of its professionalexistence the Slovak Philharmonic has worked under the direction of many of the mostdistinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugene Goossens and Malcolm Sargent to ClaudioAbbado