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ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK: SYMPHONY No.7, Rhapsody in A minor
Marek Štryncl & Musica Florea

 

F10280   [8595017428029]   released 12/2022     

supported by Ministry of Culture Czech Republic

play all Symphony D minor, Rhapsody A minor
1.
Rapsodie a moll, Op. 14 18:53
2.
Symfonie d moll _ Allegro maestoso 10:54
3.
Symfonie d moll _ Poco adagio 8:58
4.
Symfonie d moll _ Scherzo. Vivace 7:34
5.
Symfonie d moll _ Finale. Allegro 9:50

MUSICA FLOREA, MAREK ŠTRYNCL, conductor        www.musicaflorea.cz 

Among the least-known items in the overwhelmingly rich oeuvre of Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) is his Rhapsody in A minor, composed in August and September of 1874. The compositional style of the thirty-three-year-old composer—known at this time only in Prague—was just then undergoing a crucial rebirth: the once-strong influence of the New German School, represented above all by the names of Wagner and Liszt, was receding into the background, while coming more and more to the fore were compositional procedures that would soon crystalize into Dvořák’s personal style. Although the original intent to compose the Rhapsody in A minor seems to have been inspired by the Hungarian Rhapsodies of Liszt—whom in the previous year Dvořák had even wanted to visit in Weimar, to ‘take instruction from him’—the musical content of the work is in many respects already typically Dvořákian. This is true especially of the clearly-profiled thematic material, the inventive melodies, and the directness of expression, supported by splendid orchestration. The heroic, in places even aggressively agitated tone of the Rhapsody seems to anticipate the last of all Dvořák’s orchestral works, written many years later, the symphonic poem A Hero’s Song. However, it appears that the composer was not entirely satisfied with the result, because—to our knowledge—he never tried to find a publisher or to have the work performed. Nevertheless he returned to the same musical from four years later in his three Slavonic Rhapsodies, the first of which, in its middle section, even directly evokes the secondary theme of its predecessor. The young Dvořák was very critical of his works, even excessively so, and he destroyed many of them. Fortunately the Rhapsody in A minor, which he later retitled as a Symphonic Poem (without specifying any extra-musical programme) escaped the flames, and thus remains a valuable example of his compositional skills in this important phase of his development.

     Only ten years later Dvořák was enjoying widespread international renown, and his successes were leading many performers and performing organizations to commission new works from his pen. Such was the case with his Symphony No. 7 in D minor, which he wrote at the request of the Philharmonic Society of London. It was a major commitment: many highly-respected composers had written works for this famous institution, among them no less than Beethoven. And at the same time the Society named Dvořák an honorary member. Encouraged by the recent sensational success of his Stabat Mater in England, he launched into work on his new symphony with the highest artistic ambitions, and resolved to create such a work as would ‘stir the world’. There is no doubt that he achieved his aims. Composed during three months from December 1884 to March 1885, this work may be considered not only his own magnum opus in the genre of symphony, but one of the pinnacles in all symphonic literature of the Romantic period. This was fully recognized by the composer’s contemporaries: after the premiere, which he himself conducted in London, British critics compared him with the most widely-admired living symphonist, Brahms. Some wrote that the Czech master equalled Brahms in compositional technique while even surpassing him in strength and richness of musical invention.

     Eight years later when working on his symphony ‘From the New World’ Dvořák probably had no idea that he was ‘performing a disservice’ to his own seventh work in this genre. The direct communication and positive energy radiating from the New World Symphony decidedly triumphs, from the standpoint of appeal to listeners in the long run, over the dark, pondering mood of its predecessor. The atmosphere of the Seventh Symphony—unusually dark for Dvořák—is sometimes interpreted as an artistic expression of some spiritual crisis he was undergoing, and sometimes as a reflection of the agitated social-political atmosphere of the time. But we have no concrete evidence to support any such theory. Rather the opposite. During the period of work on the symphony and throughout the whole previous year Dvořák was enjoying unprecedented successes both artistic and financial, and his private life was filled with nothing but positive, even joyful events: his wife Anna was expecting a child (their son Otakar), the whole family moved to a large and more comfortable flat, and at the same time they acquired a summer home in their beloved village of Vysoká near Příbram. Nor is there any evidence of dissatisfaction in the composer’s correspondence from the time: while working on the symphony he wrote to his friend Alois Göbl: ‘Just today I finished the second movement, Andante, of my new symphony, and in this work I again feel happy and blessed, as has always been the case.’ Perhaps the unusually philosophical mood and dramatic character of the Seventh Symphony resulted from a conscious decision: the intentional abandoning of ‘Slavic’ inspirations and congenial, idyllic expression, which had formed an important part of Dvořák’s ‘brand name’, may have followed from an effort to approach as closely as possible to the international musical language represented in people’s minds at the time especially by the works of Brahms, and historically by Beethoven. In any case what is clear is that the depth of thought in the Seventh Symphony, the magnificent scope of its conception, and its unusually inventive work with all aspects of composition provide overwhelming proof of the composer’s genius. Dvořák would never surpass the iron-clad logic and intensity of expression that dominate this whole symphony.

Ondřej Šupka

When the Musica Florea orchestra started playing romantic symphonic music on period romantic instruments, they chose Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No.7 in 2005, which was soon afterwards released on CD. Why now again? Personally, I have come to believe that our interpretation of this work at that time was not romantic enough. It clung to the legacy and influence of conductor Václav Talich who at the end of his life said that he would perform Antonín Dvořák's works without all this "romantic overlay". And we know that as soon as he started conducting he began to remove these "overlays" gradually. We are talking about the so-called portata in the form of glissandos, tempo changes (flexible tempo) and varied work with rhythm or "consonance" (tempo rubato), which strengthened the musical emotion or expression. Although we hear much of this (at least in hints) in Václav Talich's recordings from the 1930s, it is clear that the development at that time was moving away from the true essence of Romantic interpretation. We know from contemporary criticism that Dvořák, as a conductor, changed tempi without having it written down in the score. And from the end of the 18th century onwards we have dozens of instructions on how to work with changes in tempo. All this was forgotten during the 20th century (with a few isolated exceptions). It even got to the point that the tempo changes explicitly prescribed by Dvořák were deliberately ignored by famous conductors. I am convinced that our "Great Return" will come as a shock to the "Dvořák experts" as it upsets the entrenched schemes of how his work should be interpreted. We can certainly debate whether the radical changes in tempo or tempo rubato on this recording are not over the edge. However, the more one becomes familiar with contemporary recommendations or recordings from the late 19th century, the sooner one finds that it is not over the top. For this is just part of the nature of Romantic interpretation..

Marek Štryncl


Further recordings by Marek Štryncl and Musica Florea orchestra:

        
  

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