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ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK: SYMPHONY No. 8, In Nature's Realm 
Marek Štryncl & Musica Florea


F10285   [8595017428524]   released 12/2023     

supported by Ministry of Culture Czech Republic

play all Symfonie č. 8 G dur, V přírodě 52:25
V přírodě (In Nature's Realm) 14:53
Symfonie G dur _ Allegro con brio 10:21
Symfonie G dur _ Adagio 10:39
Symfonie G dur _ Allegretto grazioso 6:31
Symfonie G dur _ Allegro ma non troppo 10:00

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

The Symphony No. 8 in G major and concert overture In Nature’s Realm by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) are kindred works. Both were composed during the same period in his life—a period when he could take great satisfaction in his accomplishments, having achieved stunning success especially in England, and on the home front most recently with his opera The Jacobin, though his new triumphs in America were still in the offing. Both were written, as far as we know, to suite his own fancy, not to satisfy some request or commission. Both saw the light of day in large part at his beloved rural retreat in Vysoká near Příbram, and both embody feelings aroused by the beauties of nature which he so ardently loved. We can even notice a kinship between the main theme of the symphony’s first movement (introduced by flute, after the brief, sombre introduction) and that of the overture (played by clarinet, likewise after a short introductory section), in both cases based on the pentatonic scale which evokes a feeling of freshness, of something happening in the open air.
     In the case of the overture Dvořák indicated the ‘extramusical’ content by the work’s title, In Nature’s Realm. He provided no further verbal clues, but in many places one can easily imagine the rustling of leaves in the forest and something for which we know he had a special love: the singing of birds. If Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony conveys ‘cheerful’ feelings upon arrival in the countryside, with Dvořák’s overture those feelings wax almost ecstatic: his attitude toward natural beauty was practically one of worship. He composed the piece from March to July of 1891 as the first of a group of three concert overtures, followed by Carnival and Othello. Originally he intended them to be performed together as a unit, and they are linked by the fact that the main theme of the first reappears in the remaining two. From a friend of Dvořák’s we have it that this theme represents the composer himself, apparently in his responses to the respective imagined situations. Eventually he decided that the overtures could be performed separately, and certainly one has no problem in accepting In Nature’s Realm as an independent work. It was greeted with rejoicing upon its premiere, conducted by the composer in Prague on 28 April 1892. In the words of one critic: Dvořák is a fervent admirer of nature and its charms; we need not wonder that the impressions made on him by the pleasing sanctuaries of the forests around Příbram are embodied in the loveliest musical garb that any composer could give them.
     The Symphony No. 8, composed a little earlier from August to November 1889, is of course a work of larger scope with a wider range of moods, having four movements of varying character. In several places Dvořák gives voice to feelings of melancholy or, in one passage in the second movement, even agony; if we seek a particular cause, it might be in part the recent death of his wife’s sister Marie Štěpánková at the age of thirty-one, which we know grieved the composer and especially his wife tremendously. Prevailing overall, however, is a mood of good cheer—in places even jolly to the extreme. The symphony bears no programmatic title, and its score would appear to be one of purely ‘absolute’ music with no specific relation to anything outside itself. However, from three different persons who spoke with Dvořák around the time of its first performances we learn that he intended it as a ‘pastoral’ work inspired by life in the country. According to his friend Václav Juda Novotný, in the first movement he evidently ‘wished to depict in musical sound the relation of his own soul, burdened with many gloomy recollections, to the inspiring beauties of nature in God’s outdoor world.’ In this and the second movement as well we can hear the merry singing of birds.

    In 1991 the German musicologist Hartmut Schick made some very interesting observations about this symphony: that while composing it Dvořák thought he might conduct it during his upcoming tour of Russia in March 1890, and that it embodies a whole network of features shared, evidently not by accident, with the Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky. However, the fact that these similarities escaped the attention of music critics for over a century is testimony to how well Dvořák ‘covered his tracks’: the impression one gets in listening to this symphony is not at all ‘Tchaikovskian’, but rather one of pure Dvořák. The success of the premiere, conducted by the composer in Prague on 2 February 1890, could hardly have been more resounding. One critic said this work would win him the rank of foremost living symphonist, and another called him the greatest symphonist since Beethoven.The first performance abroad was not in Russia but in London on 24 April 1890, again under Dvořák’s baton, to reviews scarcely less extravagant in their praise than had been those of his countrymen. Thus we read: [A] more powerful, and in many respects more daringly original, symphony has not for a considerable period been offered to an English audience. It may, in fact, fairly be said that the work does not contain a weak movement.Finding values of a different sort, another London review proclaims: No more fresh and delightfully melodious work has been heard for many a day [...]. Within a few years the symphony was performed dozens of times, in Vienna, Germany, Switzerland, America, and again in Prague and England. Eventually it would be somewhat overshadowed by Dvořák’s next and last symphony, ‘From the New World’, but had he never written that work he would still occupy a prominent place in symphonic repertoire thanks to several of his earlier symphonies, above all precisely this Symphony No. 8. Today, well over a century after he conducted its British premiere, listeners all over the world experience this work in pure bliss as did pianist and musicologist Alfred James Hipkins in a letter to the composer after that performance: To hear this work is like rain after a long drought or manna to those starving in the desert; from first to last it is lovely and being a work of rare genius altogether above criticism!
     David R. Beveridge

When Richard Wagner, Antonín Dvořák’s great idol, heard Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 performed by the Prague Conservatory Orchestra, he remarked in disgust that the performance was not good enough because there were very few tempo changes. He added that we should listen to how such symphonic music is played by pianists. And indeed, not only in recordings from the early 20th century, but also nowadays, piano performances of this kind of music contain various agogics, accelerandos, ritardandos, rubatos, various articulation as well as tempo rubato. According to the Romantic ideal, such interpretation should also apply to the symphony orchestra. This is so, despite most of these expression markings or ornamentation were not written into the score by the composer. It is therefore time to revive the original beauty of the varied Romantic interpretation and not to be afraid to ‘take risks’. Antonín Dvořák was not afraid either. He, as well as Richard Wagner, have always encouraged a radical approach to the flexibility of tempo.

     Marek Štryncl

Further recordings by Marek Štryncl and Musica Florea orchestra:


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