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ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK: SYMPHONY Nr. 3, Tragic Overture, Polonaise E flat major
Marek Štryncl & Musica Florea


F10260   [8595017426025]   ereleased 12/2020     

with cooperation of Musica Florea, supported by Ministry of Culture Czech Republic

play album Dvořák: Symphony No.3 52:44
1. Tragic Overture in B flat major 14:06
2. Symphony No.3 - Allegro moderato 10:13
3. Symphony No.3 - Adagio molto, tempo di marcia 13:14
4. Symphony No.3 - Finale. Allegro vivace 9:28
5. Polonaise in E flat major 5:44

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

The Tragic Overture, the Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, and the Polonaise in E flat Major by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) are all works we hear in concert rather seldom if at all, yet harbour a myriad of musical beauties, and especially in the case of the first two (relatively early) works reveal a ‘different Dvořák’—quite contrasted stylistically to the ‘familiar Dvořák’ known from his maturity, yet of no less interest and to many listeners scarcely less valuable artistically.

Composed originally in the autumn of 1870 as the overture to Dvořák’s first opera, Alfred, the Tragic Overture gained its independent title in anticipation of a concert performance in 1881. It was probably also at that time that Dvořák subjected its score to a major revision. Alas that performance did not come to fruition—nor was any of the music from Alfred ever performed during the composer’s lifetime.

In 1870 Dvořák was very much under the spell of Richard Wagner, and Jarmil Burghauser has called the Tragic Overture the most Wagnerian composition in Czech music history. Some passages remind us of the overture to Der fliegende Holländer, but also the immolation scene from Götterdämmerung—which Wagner had not yet composed! This bold young Dvořák was nothing if not an innovator, and certainly in places his harmonic experiments go even beyond Wagner.

The overture begins with a slow introduction which, after a violent opening gesture filled with dramatic tension, takes us to the magical, misty world of the opera’s setting in early medieval England. Then comes the main section, Allegro molto passionato, utilizing various themes and motives from the opera, depicting struggles between the English and invading armies of Danes as well as the love of the fair Alvina for the English King Alfred. Only near the end do we finally hear, just once, the motive of Alfred himself—coincidentally almost identical to L'Internationale, composed later by Pierre De Geyter of Belgium who of course could not have known Dvořák’s opera. Alfred’s melody sounds forth in the stately majesty of trumpets and trombones amidst the whirl of battle. The final throes of the struggle then lead, as in the opera itself, to a triumphant conclusion with victory of the English.

Two-and-a-half years after writing the Alfred overture Dvořák composed his Third Symphony, in the spring and early summer of 1873. It must have been an exhilarating time for him, bringing his first major concert success with his Hymnus for chorus and orchestra and his first publication (of six songs), as well as, evidently, happiness in his relationship with Anna Čermáková: their first child would be born exactly nine months after completion of the symphony on 4 July 1873. Perhaps all of this influenced him to compose a work that radiates joy and, in its Finale, even boisterous merriment. But the outer sections of its slow movement, evoking a funeral march of intense grief, may also reflect personal experiences during this period: the death late in February of Anna’s father at the age of fifty-two.

Dvořák’s fascination with Wagner is still evident here, but we find other influences as well—from Beethoven and, in the slow movement, from Berlioz. All is thoroughly ‘digested’ and amalgamated into a work that has its own distinctive and coherent style, with compelling ideas shaped masterfully into a symphonic whole. At least in the work as we know it: sometime after the premiere in 1874 (under the baton of Bedřich Smetana) Dvořák undertook revisions that were perhaps quite drastic. In the case of the second movement and parts of the Finale his original score is missing and he worked with a new manuscript copy, so we can’t even compare the definitive version with the original. From reviews of the premiere, however, we gather that the basic outlines of the symphony remained intact, including the somewhat unusual restriction to three movements, whereby the third combines the character of a scherzo with that of a finale.

The revisions were probably made mainly before the second performance of this work, in 1889. Unfortunately this turned out to be the last performance during Dvořák lifetime. The composer, and the whole world evidently, were mainly occupied with the stream of new works that kept pouring from his pen. Yet Dvořák was reportedly very fond of his Third Symphony, returning to it gladly on many occasions and leafing through it with pleasure even several days before his death. Commentators of our own time who have studied the work find it not only interesting documentation of a certain phase in Dvořák’s stylistic development, but a work of high artistic value in its own right. In his multi-volume coverage of the entire symphonic repertoire, A. Peter Brown said this work ‘ranks among the finest symphonies from the second half of the nineteenth century.’

Totally lacking in both the Tragic Overture and the Third Symphony is the ‘folk tone’ we associate with Dvořák’s maturity, in such works as the Slavonic Dances and in dance-like themes of various chamber and orchestral compositions. Might we expect that tone in his Polonaise in E flat? This is explicitly a dance, written in December 1879, thus a year and a half after the first set of Slavonic Dances. And the Polonaise as a dance type indeed had its roots in folk music, from Poland. But already in the eighteenth century it was cultivated as a courtly dance, of a stately, processional character (though not lacking in rhythmic vitality), and not only in Poland: this was a thoroughly international genre. Dvořák’s Polonaise in E flat is very much in keeping with this pattern. Composed on commission for a ball of the Academic Readers’ Association in Prague, it was performed there in January 1880 then in a ball of engineering students in March. Early in 1881 Dvořák inserted it into the court festivities in performances of his opera King and Collier from 1874. In 1883 the Polonaise was published in Prague in an arrangement for piano four hands which evidently gained considerable popularity, reissued in 1892 by C. F. Peters of Leipzig. Surprisingly, the original form with its delightful scoring for full orchestra remained unpublished until 1961.

David R. Beveridge

A Word from the Conductor

If we want to interpret a Romantic composition, shouldn’t we interpret it romantically? It is interesting that nearly every musician, critic, and musicologist will answer “yes” spontaneously. To play and sing Bach like Bach or Dvořák like Dvořák is surely a lovely ideal, where “the musician is to be the composer’s right hand, and he may not add to the composition or take anything away from it”, as Wagner declared. But Wagner was talking about compositions, not scores. As a conductor, he was literally obsessed with tempo flexibility and rubato. He would speed up and slow down, even changing the tempo during a quick movement by nearly half. And he did so to give emotional highlighting to the loveliness of the melody. In conservative England of the mid-19th century, he was nearly booed off the stage because of this, but he prepared the way for Dvořák a generation later, who fascinated the English critics in a positive sense as a conductor by the way he made tempo changes where none were indicated in the score. The Romantics literally hated the metronome, and ultimately it was publishers who compelled them to provide metronome markings. And that was merely to avoid “fundamental errors” in the choice of a composition’s tempo, as Carl Maria von Weber discussed. Composers were worried that performers would feel limited by the metronome and by unmusical constraints. Unfortunately, such practice became the absurd norm for “true” musicianship in the interpretation of Romantic works (especially after the Second World War). The result of the modern ideal (“one note like another” and “anything not written in the score has no right to exist”) was that Romantic music began to be played unromantically. Without messa di voce, emotionally charged portamentos – glissandos, deliberately unequal intonation, or free bow changes (to help melodies flow in an uninterrupted legato), without agogics, and without the aforementioned essence of Romantic interpretation – tempo flexibility.

With the aid of period Romantic instruments, this recording attempts to return to all of us – listeners and performers – the expressive resources that make romantic musical interpretation truly romantic.

Marek Štryncl

Further recordings by Marek Štryncl and Musica Florea orchestra:


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