Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Monday, August 30, 2004

More Dvorak

Got a whole stack of new music today, and hope to blog about them this week. But before I do that, I want to talk a little more about Antonin Dvorak, and two CD's I have in my collection.

The first is a collection of Works for Cello and Orchestra. The CD includes his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B minor, Op. 104; Klid ("Silent Woods") Piece for Cello and Orchestra; and Rondo for Cello and Orchestra in G minor, Op. 94.

According to the CD insert (what used to be called "liner notes", remember them?) Brahms' is purported to have said, "If only I'd known you could write a cello concerto that way! I should've written one long ago!" (As mentioned in my previous post, Brahms was a big supporter of Dvorak). Dvorak had a close, creative friendship with Czech cellist Hanus Wihan, to whom the concerto is dedicated. Apparently Wihan had written a cadenza based on the themes from the first two (of three movements), however Dvorak refused to include it. There is some debate as to whether this difference of opinion is what caused Wihan to refuse the opportunity to play at the debut of the piece.

The concerto was written in 1894-95, after he wrote the New World symphony mentioned earlier.

To prepare for this entry, I listened again to the concerto this afternoon. The first two movements did not really (pardon the pun) move me very much, though Dvorak himself said that, of the second theme of the first movement, "I am moved every time I play it." The third movement, the finale, sounds like a march and a dance, and is very enjoyable.

Of the two other pieces on the CD; these were arranged by the composer in order for Wihan to showcase his talents during a tour in 1892 with Dvorak and violinist Ferdinand Lachner. The Rondo was written in four days over Christmas of 1891. Klid was transcribed from a piano duet (Op. 68).

While the liner notes describe the Rondo as "veiled in bitter sorrow", I didn't get that from the piece. While there are brooding parts, there are brighter passages which for me stood out more to make the piece likeable. Klid ("Silent Woods") is a very melodic piece, a sort of orchestral Unchained Melody that is very nice, though short.

The second CD I want to mention contains a pair of serenades, String Serenade, Op. 22 and Wind Serenade, Op. 44.

In 1875 Dvorak's compositions were discovered by Johannes Brahms and Vienna critic Eduard Hanslick. These two gentlemen recommended him for a government grant, which was given. Dvorak's dream on becoming a musician and composer had paid off. The String Serenade is dated to 1875, and was publicly performed in 1876. Apparently these were happy times for Dvorak; he had married in 1873, and his opera The King and Collier had been successful in 1874. The String Serenade is a very nice work, the second movement (of five) containing dances which are engaging.

The Wind Serenade was completed in early 1878, and was performed at a concert later that year, a concert which featured Dvorak's work and in which he himself conducted. The liner notes describe the first movement as a "rather comically pompous march of a village band to the green to give a concert." The final movement again suggests the village band marching off at the end.

All in all, I enjoyed the serenades most of the two CD's. The version I have is unavailable, but you can find other versions, notably the one linked above.

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