Spring Concert: Ahhh, Dvořák
Vernon Cook Theater -- April 21, 2012 - 7:30 PM
Clinton High School                 Clinton, IA

Antonín Dvořák
Slavonic Dances Nos 1 and 3, Op 46

Czech Suite in D major, Op 39
Preludium: Allegro moderato
Polka: Allegretto grazioso
Sousedská (Minuetto): Allegro giusto
Romance: Andante con moto
Finále (Furiant): Presto

Cello Concerto in B minor, Op 104
Adagio, ma non troppo
Finale: Allegro moderato - Andante - Allegro vivo
Dr. Moisés Molina, cello


Dvořák and Wife Anna
in England 1886
Dvorak & Wife 1886

A true son of Bohemia, Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was one of the few nationalist composers during the height of the Romantic age to garner international admiration, most especially in English-speaking England and the United States. Several of the most popular and enduring compositions on which his international fame rests arose from his associations with and activities within these two countries, including a mutual collaboration on the Cello Concerto in B minor, Op 104.

Dvořák came to the attention of the broader European music scene in 1878 following his endorsement by the German composer Johannes Brahms. Brahms, on the advice of Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, took a look at the piano score of the Czech composer's Slavonic Dances, Op 46, became enthused, and recommended Dvořák to music publisher Fritz Simrock. With Brahms as a mentor and Simrock as his publisher, Dvořák quickly arranged his Dances for orchestra, and Simrock rushed the score to market for a ready audience. Dvořák saw his fortunes rise sharply, and the demand for his music was so great that Simrock encouraged the composer to submit earlier, less mature works for publication to which the music publisher attached later opus numbers. Thus did Dvořák's music spread quickly from the continent to England in relatively short order.

Fritz Simrock
Fritz Simrock

Within a few years, Dvořák had earned a strong following in England that grew progressively larger as his works became more widely known and appreciated. Selections from the Slavonic Dances with their 'elemental character and novelty of expression' first appeared in English concerts in 1879. That same year an English chamber group performed his Sextet in A major. A year later Hans Richter, a celebrated European conductor, led a performance of Dvořák's Third Slavonic Rhapsody in the Crystal Palace to great applause. Shortly thereafter, London audiences demanded a performance of the Symphony No 6 in D major under Richter, following its performance by a provincial English orchestra. In 1882, eminent pianist Oskar Beringer gave the London premiere of Dvořák's Piano Concerto in G minor, Op 33, again in the Crystal Palace. However, it was not until an impressive presentation of the oratorio Stabat Mater in 1883 that an interest was aroused in England to meet the composer himself.

Dvořák arrived in London in March 1884, the first stop on a commission to conduct some of his orchestral compositions at various venues around the country. At the first rehearsal the composer was 'profoundly impressed' that 'I was welcomed with thunderous and lasting applause; a long time passed before there was a moment of quiet again.' This cordial greeting was extended eight other times over the next twelve years. In November 1884, he travelled to London and to Worcester where he gave a performance of the Stabat Mater; in April 1885, he visited London for the première of the Seventh Symphony; in August 1885, he gave concerts in London and in Birmingham, where he conducted the British première of the cantata Svatební košile ('The Spectre's Bride'); in October 1886, he visited London, Birmingham and Leeds, where he gave the première of the oratorio Svatá Ludmila ('St Ludmilla'); in April 1890, he was again in London to give a performance of the Eighth Symphony; in July 1891, he visited London and Cambridge, where he received an honorary doctorate, and in October of the same year he went to Birmingham for the première of the Requiem. But Dvořák's enthusiasm had waned by the time of his last visit to London in the spring of 1896 for the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op 104. By now the composer was somewhat world-weary and complained

...the weather is terrible...there was a great wind, yesterday and today it has rained almost the whole time - and one almost despairs, especially when at the same time one is tormented by cold. Indeed I could not get a mouthful of good food here...nothing was to my taste.

The Cello Concerto itself was a product of Dvorak's three-year residence in the United States. Dvořák accepted a position, at the request of American patron of the arts Jeannette Thurber, to head the newly instituted National Conservatory of Music in New York City. His primary task was to instill in budding American composers the facility to create a serious music reflecting the 'American Experience', rather than American imitations of European masters. He not only headed the Conservatory, but he also taught classes, gave lectures to outside groups, and wrote articles for local newspapers and national magazines.

The Americans expect great things of me. I am to show them the way into the Promised Land, the realm of a new, independent art, in short a national style of music! … This will certainly be a great and lofty task, and I hope that with God’s help I shall succeed in it. I have plenty of encouragement to do so.

Dvořák and Family Members and Maid
in New York City 1892
Dvorak Family in NYC

And, he continued to compose, at first as a guide to his American students and benefactors, but then on his own initiative. He and his family arrived in New York City in the fall of 1892 and in January 1893, he began work on his Symphony No 9 in E minor, 'From the New World' and had it completed by late spring. The work was premièred at Carnegie Hall, December 16, 1893, with Anton Seidl conducting the New York Philharmonic. Over time, the symphony has proved to be one of Dvořák's greatest successes.

A man of rustic sensibilities, Dvořák tired quickly of the hectic life of big city New York; he often confided to John Kovarik, his private secretary, that he longed for the quiet and tranquility of his native land, his home at Vysoká. Thus, Kovarik encouraged the composer to accompany him home to Spillville, Iowa, during the summer break from school. He assured Dvořák that in the broad plains of the American Midwest, he could find find the solace he sought. Dvořák, his wife Anna, their three sons and three daughters, a sister-in-law, a maid, and Joseph Kovarik left New York City on June 3, 1893, for Spillville, Iowa, in the heartland of the country.

The Dvořák entourage arrived in Spillville on June 5, 1893, and the composer immediately felt at home. He was pleased with the 'pleasant welcome to Spillville' he and his family had received. So quickly did Dvořák become at ease, that he sought out a piano and a reed organ and within three days was at work on a string quartet. In this relaxed and serene state, the composer completed two major chamber compositions that summer, the String Quartet in F major, Op 96, 'American' and the String Quintet in E-flat major, Op 97.

Refreshed, renewed in body and in spirit, Dvorak returned to New York City, where in his new state of mind he agreed to a two-year extension on his contract with the Conservatory.

Victor Herbert
Victor Herbert

Dvořák had long wanted to write a cello concerto; he had attempted one as early as 1865 but had never completed the orchestration. The difficulty for the young composer in reconciling the low pitch of the instrument with the dynamics of a full orchestra proved to be less of a problem for the more mature composer, especially after he heard a cello concerto by one of his Conservatory staff. Victor Herbert, remembered now primarily as the composer of operettas, himself a cellist, composed two cello concertos for his own performance repertoire. Dvořák attended the première of the Second Concerto on March 10, 1894, with Herbert and the New York Philharmonic. So impressed was the Czech composer with Herbert's treatment of the cello with the orchestra that he began to contemplate a concerto of his own.

The composer did not begin work on the Cello Concerto in B minor, Op 104, however, until November; he completed the score in February 1895, but revised the final movement considerably after his return to Prague in June of that year. The work was intended for Czech cellist Hanuš Wihan, who had plagued Dvořák to write a cello concerto for years and on whom Dvořák relied for technical aspects of the solo part. This last concerto is the most intensively personal of his concertos in that it memorializes his affections for his sister-in-law who was dangerously ill during the time of its composition. It was no secret that Dvořák was, as a young man, in love with Josefina Kaunitzová, a love she could not reciprocate. In the second movement, he quotes one of his songs, a favorite of Josefina, Lasst mich allein (Let Me Be Alone), Op 82, No 1. After Josefina's death in May 1895, Dvořák revised the score again; the melody returns in the finale as a slow section, a soulful duet with the violin and the cello intermingling, before returning to the dance-like proceedings leading to the dramatic, sudden conclusion.

Wihan, left, Dvořák, center, and Friend

Also notable about the concerto is the concertante treatment of the cello with the orchestra. The soloist not only plays off on the orchestra, but he carries on various 'dialogues' with other individual instrumentalists, something unusual in other Romantic concertos of the period.

Wihan assisted Dvořák with the fingerings and bowing instructions, then boldly suggested changes to the score and wrote cadenzas for the first and last movements. The composer rejected these changes out of hand. Ironically, because of scheduling conflicts, Wihan did not participate in the London premiere of the work, but that honor was given to Leo Stern, a yet fully tested concert performer. Dvořák worked with Stern over several days, and voiced a mild concern, 'I hope he will be all right.' The London première with Dvořák conducting took place on March 19, 1896. The work was an immediate success, and Stern carried the concerto to other music venues throughout Europe. Wihan did not perform the work publicly until 1899, at The Hague under conductor Wilhelm Mengelberg.

Like the Slavonic Dances, the Czech Suite is based on Czech folk music and dance forms. Scored for a smaller orchestra than the Cello Concerto, it is in five movements. The Suite is one of several works that Dvořák composed for a Mozart-sized orchestra - other works in this genre include the delightful Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op 22 and the Serenade for Wind Instruments in D minor, Op 44. Dvořák wrote the piece in 1879, but it was not published until much later, which is illustrative of a problem Dvořák had with his publisher Simrock. Simrock asked Dvořák to submit all of his earlier works that the composer felt worthy of publication. The composer complied, but was dismayed when he discovered that Simrock was offering early, less mature pieces with later opus numbers, implying that they were the newest compositions from the composer. Simrock's practice of postdating a composer's early works was not uncommon among music publishers of the day who wished to capitalize on a new composer's popularity, but in Dvořák's case, the practice led to confused or missing opus numbers. (Dvořák's compositions  are commonly referred to today by their Burghauser numbers, which come from an authoritative chronological catalog Jarmil Michael Burghauser prepared of Dvořák's complete works. Since Dvořák's pieces were not published in the order he wrote them, Burghauser has helped greatly to clear up this confusion.)

The Czech Suite in D major, Op 39, was composed between 1875 and 1879, and it has the beauty, suppleness, and vitality of Dvořák's larger orchestral scores. Each of the Suite's five movements is a Bohemian dance form. It should be noted here that while Dvořák occasionally used existing Czech folk melodies, he more often sought to picture Czech folk qualities with original melodic structures based on mood, shaping and tempo. The second, third and fifth movements are most indicative of the Bohemian folk dance, with the finale, a furiant in D minor, bringing the piece to a frenetic fiery finish.

The works on tonight's program illustrate the two sides of Antonin Dvořák's musical world. The Slavonic Dances and the Czech Suite are clear examples of his 'nationalistic' composing, while the Cello Concerto shows the more 'international' style he adopted to address a wider audience. Indeed, he proves himself a master of both which is why he continues to delight music lovers today as he once did.

Program Notes ©2012 William H. Driver and Clinton Symphony Orchestra Association

This program is funded in part by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.



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