Carneval Overture Op. 92
Antonín Leopold Dvořák
Born 8 September 1841 in Nelahozeves, Bohemia, Austrian Empire
Died 1 May 1904 in Prague
Antonín Dvořák is best loved for his New World Symphony, Cello Concerto in B minor, and for his exquisite chamber music. Among his orchestral works is his popular and frequently played Carneval Overture.
Carneval is the center of a triptych of overtures composed on the themes of “Nature, Life, and Love.” In the summer of 1891, Dvořák dedicated Carneval to the University of Prague, which had conferred upon him an honorary doctorate of Philosophy in March of that year. Dvořák’s original intent was for the three works to be presented as a trilogy, but the pieces are rarely performed together. Prior to writing Carneval, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University in England. This he added to a growing shelf of honors that reflected his fame throughout Europe. Dvořák conducted the overtures at their premiere in Prague on 20 April 1892. This concert was considered his farewell performance before he took the directorship of the new National Conservatory of Music in New York. While serving as director in New York, Dvořák composed his famous New World Symphony in 1893 and his Cello Concerto in 1894. These were his two prominent works of his American period.
The themes of his triptych, “Nature, Life, and Love,” were meant to portray the human soul’s experiences –joys and sorrows, peaks and valleys. Carneval is the most popular of the three works because of the overture’s energy and excitement. He composed the first piece, In Nature’s Realm, in March 1891. Carneval then followed, depicting life, and last Othello, representing love, was completed in January 1892. Each work has a recurring melody embedded in the scores that unify the three works.
Carneval bubbles with energy and exuberance. Like much of Dvořák's music, it abounds with dance rhythms and folk-music influences from his native Bohemia- the rich heartland now known as the Czech Republic. Carneval is filled with the elevated feelings of solitude as man finds himself, all at once, caught up in the high-spirited carousel of life. With its rapid tempos and explosive percussion, the opening section portrays a jubilant festival. The poetic charm of this piece is heightened when the solo violin repeats the melody. The slower Andantino section follows which features an English horn solo. The flutes later join in to represent, as Dvořák wrote, “a pair of straying lovers.” The festive motifs return and the overture ends with an exhilarating coda.
Dvořák stated in his own program note that the Carneval Overture was meant to depict:
… a lonely, contemplative wanderer reaching at twilight a city where a festival is in full swing. On every side is heard the clangor of instruments, mingled with shouts of joy and the unrestrained hilarity of the people giving vent to their feelings in songs and dances.
This work was written for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bassoon, three horns, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba, harp, timpani, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, and strings.