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ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK: SYMPHONY No. 4, MY HOMELAND 
Marek Štryncl & Musica Florea

 

F10235   [8595017423529]   released 12/2018     

in cooperation with Musica Florea, z.s.
with financial support of Ministry of Culture, Czech Republic

play album A.Dvořák: Symphony No. 4 - Musica Florea 51:15 169Kč
MP3 album
199Kč
FLAC album
1. My Homeland 9:39 35Kč
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45Kč
FLAC
2. Allegro 13:02 35Kč
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45Kč
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3. Andante sostenuto e molto cantabile 11:03 35Kč
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4. Allegro feroce 7:06 35Kč
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5. Allegro con brio 10:26 35Kč
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MUSICA FLOREA, conducted by MAREK ŠTRYNCL
www.musicaflorea.cz 

The Symphony No. 4 in D minor, B. 41 by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) is one of the many works from his so-called ‘early’ period that, though harboring great beauties, are still today awaiting full appreciation by the musical world. Actually Dvořák was by no means a youngster when he wrote this ‘early’ symphony—at the age of thirty-two. He had abundant and intense experience of orchestral music from performing almost a decade as violist in innumerable concerts and opera performances. His own works, moreover, already constituted a very substantial output of compositions including—yes—three earlier symphonies. But very little of his music had been performed: indeed only one work of substantial duration, his first Piano Quintet, B. 28, and in the way of orchestral compositions only two short single-movement works. That he went on to compose a fourth symphony at this time provides especially remarkable testimony to his industriousness and resilience, coming as it did shortly after cancellation of a long-planned production of his opera Král a uhlíř, B. 21, which would have given him his very first opportunity to earn money from his work as a composer: the opera was deemed too difficult. This at a time when his wife-to-be Anna Čermáková was pregnant. Their marriage would be a long and happy one, but the wedding in November 1873 must have transpired amidst an atmosphere of great anxiety. 
 
That feeling of anxiety, along with a sense of fierce struggle and defiance, can perhaps be heard in the groom’s new D-minor symphony, completed on 26 March 1874. In the opening Allegro the lyrical second theme in B flat major cannot prevent an emphatic close to the movement in a wrathful D minor, which key after the dreamy interlude of the slow movement (again in B flat, inspired to an extent by the pilgrims’ procession from Wagner’s Tannhäuser) returns to both open and conclude the demonic Scherzo, despite that movement’s humorous elements. Struggle is once more the hallmark of the finale, but here the movement’s rapturous second theme (imaginable perhaps as an expression of love for the composer’s new bride?) eventually overcomes the forces of darkness as it were, bringing the symphony to a jubilant conclusion.

The Scherzo movement was performed remarkably soon after Dvořák completed the symphony: in Prague on 25 May 1874 under the baton of Bedřich Smetana. But to hear the complete work Dvořák had to wait another eighteen years, until another Prague concert where he himself led the work on 6 April 1892, in a revised and somewhat shortened form. In the meantime he had offered the symphony to his principle publisher Simrock and, for performance, to the Philharmonic Society of London, but to no avail. The work sounded in its entirety during his lifetime only in that one concert, and—save a theme from the third movement which he ‘recycled’ in his four-hands piano pieces From the Bohemian Forest—was not published until eight years after he died. Why? When he began producing works like the String Serenade of 1875 that gained a foothold in the repertoire early on, then gradually as he began turning out such works in a steady stream, it was of course these new compositions that aroused the interest of publishers and performers, who assumed the earlier pieces would be inferior. Indeed, nobody will say the Fourth Symphony is as perfect as Dvořák’s later symphonies. Yet it is has its own value, and by no means only documentary value: it allows us to relish a somewhat different Dvořák from the Dvořák of his famous later works, and joins 
a wealth of imaginative, fascinating, and often beautiful ideas into a powerful and generally very convincing overall gesture. 

Dvořák’s overture My Homeland was composed in 1882 under completely different circumstances, when he had finally earned renown and was receiving various commissions. Prague’s Czech Theatre asked him to write incidental music for a play, Josef Kajetán Tyl by F. F. Šamberk, which portrays episodes from the real life of its title character, a leading figure in Czech literature. Dvořák begins his overture with the opening notes, in slow motion, of the Czech folk song ‘In Our Farmyard Everything’s Cackling’—which Tyl specified should be sung in his popular play The Bagpiper of Strakonice. After the introduction that melody becomes the first theme of the overture’s fast main section. But we also hear a patriotic song whose text was authored by Tyl himself, ‘Where is My Home?’––a song with music by František Škroup that was soon embraced by Czechs (living in the Austro-Hungarian Empire) as their unofficial national anthem and today serves that function officially for the Czech Republic. Elements of this song, too, are woven into the overture’s introduction; in its main section a rhythmically modified version of the entire song then becomes the lyrical second theme, played by clarinet, and at the climax an exhilarating rendition of this melody sounds in the full orchestra. The spoken play was performed many times with Dvořák’s music—not only the overture—during his lifetime, but it is the overture, soon published until the title My Home, that gained a place in concert repertoire that it has not relinquished to this day.

    David Beveridge

From the musical criticism published in Dvořák’s times, we know that he infused interpretations of his works with means of expression that were entirely missing from his scores. I am convinced that the romantic composers and performers had numerous such means available—means that are “hidden from” the scores—involving e.g. the use of vibrato as an ornament, messa di voce (emotional shaping of long tones by building and then easing volume), quite varied articulation, expressive “portamento” (glissando) and tremolo, and above all frequent and surprising tempo changes—and work with tempo as a tool for expression overall. A free “rubato” treatment of rhythm and deliberately staggered bowing in the string section—which, within large phrases and melodies, better fulfills the romantic ideal of a legato free of acoustic “cuts” or breaks—are also noteworthy. During performances, these are produced through shared changes of bow strokes. All of this was generally unrecorded, yet expected. Variations of intonation played an important expressive role during the Romantic period as well. Brahms, for example, required that at least the first part for the French horns in his symphonies be played on (valveless) natural horns, which make the non-uniform approaches especially perceptible. Wagner and many others rejected Theobald Boehm’s acoustically perfected fingering system (essentially the system used today), as they felt it suited woodwinds poorly. This meant as a result that certain harmonies were purer in intonation than is the case with today’s equally tempered instruments, while others had a certain tension to their intonation that helped to increase pieces’ impact—especially in dramatic passages.  All of this began to largely fall away or even disappear, and it gradually began to be the case that only what’s in the notes has a right to exist. It’s like drinking coffee-free coffee, playing Romantic music without Romantic interpretation. The musicality of 19th-century works’ interpretations was thus strongly limited during the century that followed. This is why it is essential to revive the true Romantic ideals. We are served to this end in part by Romantic instruments and replicas of them, and especially by a variety of tempo changes that, so typically for Wagner, are meant to arise from an empathy with the music’s dramatic situation.

    Marek Štryncl


Further recordings by Marek Štryncl and Musica Florea orchestra:

   

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