Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) is, together with Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), the foremost Czech composer of his time. Indeed, Czech Romanticism owes all of its impact to these two giants, who practically revolutionised the musical world in their country singlehandedly, particularly the symphonic genre. Dvořák made his name with a series of works that championed Czech national identity, winning international acclaim in the late 1870s and 1880s with pieces such as the Slavonic Dances and the Violin Concerto.
His nine symphonies are considered the benchmark of his output, but sadly only the last three (Nos 7-9) enjoy the popularity they so richly deserve. The first six hardly ever garner a performance, although Nos 5 and 6 do get an occasional performance, albeit spasmodically.
Dvořák composed his Seventh Symphony in 1885 for the Philharmonic Society in London, and the piece was premiered on 22 April of that same year at St James Hall, London. It was a huge success, and is considered by critics and musicologists alike as a pure work of art comparable to Beethoven. Dvořák knew what he was writing. His remark after drafting the first movement, 'God grant that this Czech music will move the world', says it all. It did indeed.
Listen — Dvořák: Allegro maestoso (Symphony No 7)
(4863413 track 1, 0:00-0:48) ℗ 2022 Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra :
So, too, did the Eighth, premiered on 22 February 1890 in Prague, and with the composer himself conducting. The piece took the musical world by storm, and has remained a firm favourite ever since. What is so attractive in this symphony, apart from its highly imaginative structure, are the uplifting melodies and the energy of Bohemian dance rhythms.
Listen — Dvořák: Molto vivace (Symphony No 8)
(4863413 track 7, 2:56-3:38) ℗ 2022 Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra :
The Ninth, 'From the New World', Dvořák's eternal symphonic swansong, was completed in May 1893. It was premiered on 16 December 1893 at Carnegie Hall, New York, and the reception was indescribable. With its striking melodic themes based on the composer's impressions of North America, and imaginative interpretation of its music, the work has entranced listeners for nearly 130 years. Another attractive feature of the piece is its nostalgic aura that captures Dvořák's longing for his friends and family in Prague with telling effect.
Listen — Dvořák: Allegro con fuoco (Symphony No 9)
(4863413 track 12, 1:26-2:25) ℗ 2022 Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra :
These works were recorded live at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in February 2020 by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the reviews were ecstatic. These performances are a moving experience, and Dudamel amplifies the turbulent emotions of each work with a power and intensity that you do not hear every day. Indeed, the way he connects the dark inner world of these pieces with the spiritual roots of Dvořák's homeland is just captivating. This is an issue that will set you on fire. Just buy it - you won't get burned.
Copyright © 21 August 2022