DVORAK: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7 (Gunter Appenheimer/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/ Stephen Gunzenhauser/ Teije van Geest) (Naxos: 8.550270)
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Antonin Dvořak (1841 -1904)
Symphony No.5 in F Major, Opus 76
Symphony No.7 in D Minor, Opus 70
Antonin Dvořak was born in 1841, the son of a butcher andinnkeeper in the village of Nelahozeves, near Kralupy, in Bohemia, some fortymiles north of Prague. It was natural that he should follow the example of hisfather and grandfather by learning the family trade, and to this end he leftschool 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 wassent to lodge with an uncle in Zlonice, where he continued an apprenticeshipstarted at home, learning German and improving his knowledge of music,rudimentary skill in which he had already acquired at home and in the villageband and church. Further study of German and of music at Kamenice, a town innorthern Bohemia, led to his admission, in 1857, to the Prague Organ school,from which he graduated two years later.
In the years that followed, Dvořak earned his living as aviola-player in a band under the direction of Karel Komzak which was to formthe nucleus of the Provisional Theatre Orchestra, established in 1862. Fouryears later Smetana was appointed conductor of the opera-house, where his Czechoperas The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride were performed. Itwas not until 1871 that Dvořak resigned from the theatre orchestra, todevote more time to composition, as his music began to draw some favourablelocal attention. Two years later he married and early in 1874 became organistof the church of St. Adalbert. During this period he continued to supporthimself by private teaching, while busy on a series of compositions thatgradually become known to a wider circle.
Further recognition came in 1875 with the award of a Ministry ofEducation stipendium by a committee in Vienna that included the critic EduardHanslick and Brahms. The following year Dvořak failed to win the award,but was successful in 1877. His fourth application brought the personalinterest of Hanslick and Brahms and a connection with Simrock, the latter'spublisher, who expressed a wish to publish the Moravian Duets and commissioneda set of Slavonic Dances for piano duet. These compositions won particularpopularity. There were visits to Germany and to England, where he was alwaysreceived with greater enthusiasm than a Czech composer would ever at that timehave 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 Dvořak became professor of composition at PragueConservatory. In the summer of the same year he was invited to become directorof the National Conservatory of Music in New York, a venture which, it washoped, would lay the foundations for American national music. The very Bohemianmusical results of Dvořak's time in America are well known. Here he wrotehis Ninth Symphony, From the NewWorld, its themes influenced, at least, by what he had heard of indigenousAmerican Indian and Negro music, his AmericanQuartet and a charming sonatina for violin and piano. In 1895 hereturned home to his work at the Prague conservatory, writing in the followingyear a series of symphonic poems and before the end of the century two moreoperas to add to the nine he had already composed. He died in Prague in 1904.
Dvořak's nine symphonies span a period of nearly thirty years. Thefirst two were written in 1865, and the last in 1893. Both the numbering of thesymphonies and the opus numbers assigned to them have caused some confusion.
The first four symphonies were originally omitted from the list, so that thelast five were numbered, although not in order of composition, the basis of themore usual numbering today. Opus numbers were also manipulated to some extent,a simple subterfuge to outwit Simrock by allocating earlier opus numbers to newcompositions, on which he would otherwise have had an option.
The Symphony No.5 in F major, Opus76, was written in 1875, revised in 1877, and dedicated to Liszt'sson-in-Iaw, the conductor Hans von B??low. Dvořak revised the work again in1887 and it was first published with its present opus number, although thecomposer insisted that it was in fact his Opus24, composed a decade before his Sixth and Seventh, published bySimrock as Opus 60 and Opus 70 in 1882 and 1885 respectively.
While Dvořak might attempt to outwit Simrock by giving newer works earlieropus numbers, avoiding his obligation to the publisher, the latter could outwitthe public by offering higher opus numbers, arguing greater experience and noveltyfrom the composer.
The F major Symphony isscored for the usual pairs of woodwind instruments, four horns, two trumpets,three trombones, timpani, triangle and strings, with the one less usualaddition of a bass clarinet. The first theme, introduced by the clarinets,quickly leads to something more energetic and grandiose, in a movement thatcombines characteristically Bohemian turns of melody and harmonic colours withtraditional symphonic form.
The slow movement, with its opening cello theme, accompanied by thelower strings, moves from A minor into what seems at first to be A major, inmusic that has a characteristic ambivalence of mode. It is followed by a livelyB flat major scherzo, introduced rhetorically by the cello, before the principaltheme is heard. The trio section, in D flat, is followed by are, petition ofthe scherzo, without alteration.
The closing movement of the symphony starts with a strongly markedtheme that skilfully and unusually avoids the key of F major for a considerabletime, while the second theme, that conventionally might have appeared in thekey of C major, is in G flat. The bass clarinet makes its appearance as thestormy central development section relaxes, and the movement goes on to a briefrecollection of the first movement, eventually entrusted to the trombone.
Dvořak wrote his Symphony No.7in D minor, Opus 70, for the London Philharmonic Society, after hissuccessful appearance in London in March, 1884. He started work, it seems, inDecember, and the symphony was completed by the middle of March, 1885, to be performedin London on 22nd April at St. James's Hall. Four years later Hans von B??lowconducted the symphony in Berlin so successfully that the composer decoratedthe autograph score with a portrait of the conductor, adding below the words"Glory to you! You brought this work to life." The work owessomething to the impression on Dvořak of Brahms's F major Symphony and that composer'sremark that he supposed the new symphony would be quite different from the Dmajor.
The symphony opens in a sombre mood, but even the first theme, playedby violas and cellos, has the suggestion of Bohemian inspiration about it,although this is possibly the least obviously rational of the five latersymphonies of Dvořak and the influence of Brahms remains clear enough,particularly in the second subject, introduced by flute and clarinet.
The second movement starts with a fine clarinet melody in F major,leading to a further melody for flutes and oboes that ventures further afieldin its harmonies. There is a new theme introduced by violin and cello, followedby the French horn, and the melodies we have heard are then developed. Thefollowing scherzo is highly typical of the composer in its rhythms, its doubletheme preserving the darker mood of the whole symphony, while the trio sectionbreathes