Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Program notes - Dvorak "From the New World"

This work will be performed on the March 6 GDYO concert "Young Virtuoso" at the Meyerson Symphony Center

Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”
Antonín Dvořák
Born on September 8th, 1841 in Nelahozeves, Bohemia
Died on May 1st, 1904 in Prague

One of Dvořák’s most beloved works, the “New World” Symphony captures the essence of the composer’s travels to America. He set sail for America on September 10th, 1892, with his wife and two children, Antonín and Otilie, leaving the remaining four children behind with their grandmother. Dvořák had been invited by Jeanette Thurber, the President of New York’s National Conservatory, to write a choral work for the ‘Fourth Centennial Celebration of the discovery of America by Columbus.’ Dvořák wrote his cantata, Te Deum, for this occasion. On October 9th of that same year, the New York Czech Circle held a banquet in the composer’s honor. A concert of Dvořák’s music took place on October 21st featuring the new Te Deum. The following month, he conducted his Requiem in Boston. All of these events preceded the “New World” Symphony.
Dvořák composed the symphony between December 1892 and May 1893. He added the famous subtitle, ‘From the New World,’ just before he sent the score to the conductor, Anton Seidl. The composer used the words ‘Impressions and Greetings from the New World’ to explain the subtitle. The premiere took place at Carnegie Hall on December 16th, 1893, with the composer in attendance. Within a year, additional performances took place in Boston, Brooklyn, London, and Czechoslovakia.
Dvořák’s exposure to America left a stamp on his works that can be heard, especially in this symphony, in his melodic lines and themes, although his rhythms remained Czech. The piece contains allusions to famous American tunes woven throughout, including ‘Three Blind Mice,’ ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,’ and ‘The Little Alabama Coon,’ as well as hints of ‘Yankee Doodle.’ Even more influential is the character of the African-American spirituals and Native American tunes throughout his work. The composer wrote:
It is this spirit which I have tried to reproduce in my new symphony. I have not actually used any of the melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, harmony, counterpoint and orchestral color.
In order to become more familiar with the spirituals, Dvořák invited Harry T. Burleigh, an African-American student at Mrs. Thurber’s National Conservatory in New York, to sing to him. The famous English horn solo in the second movement (familiar as “Going Home”) is heavily influenced by the spirituals. Dvořák was originally going to give that melody to the flutes or clarinets, but felt that the English horn shared the greatest resemblance to Burleigh’s voice.
The cello section begins the first movement with a solemn melody. An adventurous theme then takes over and recurs throughout the rest of the movement. This could represent Dvořák’s departure from his home land and the start of his travels in the New World.
The celebrated second movement opens with sonorous chords played by the French horns, leading up to the poignant English horn solo. The middle section of the piece contains a meandering melody that continues into a lighter, more playful tune. As the movement comes to a close, a string quartet plays the “Going Home” theme, creating an intimate atmosphere. Dvořák was homesick while in America and the second movement truly exemplifies his nostalgia.
Dvořák’s third movement, the scherzo, is a prime example of his use of Czech rhythms. The opening starts abruptly with percussion playing a strong role. The movement then transitions into the middle trio section. Dvořák then returns to the urgent and chaotic theme that was played in the beginning of the movement. A brusque ending creates a dramatic effect to a frantic movement.
Intensity opens the fourth movement as the strings play in unison, leading up to the trumpet’s grand entrance as they play a majestic and victorious melody. The following theme is adventurous and triumphant. Echoes of previous themes can be heard throughout the movement, along with suggestions of well-known American tunes. This movement ends Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony leaving the audience with an invigorating experience and a love for music. His masterpiece remains close to the hearts of people everywhere.
Dvořák scored the symphony for 2 flutes, one doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, and strings.
Marlea Simpson (viola)

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