Thursday, August 20, 2020

Dvorak Symphonic Poem - The Water Goblin

 Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) was a Czech composer best known for his nine symphonies, especially the 9th known as "From The New World", written while he was a music professor in New York City.  But he also wrote ten operas,  chamber music (more than forty works for string ensemble), for the piano and sacred music. Later in his career he also wrote five symphonic poems in the years 1896-1897:  The Water Goblin, The Noon Witch, The Golden Spinning Wheel, The Wild Dove and A Hero's Song.  

The Water Goblin is a creature of European mythology, with differences in the myth according to nationality. The Czech version of the goblin  has a human body, with green skin. He's thought to be the cause of drownings, and stores the soul of the drowned victim in a porcelain cup. Some tales of the water goblin portray him as rather comical, but Dvorak used a poem based on the tale written by Karel Erben, a Czech poet, writer and collector of folk tales and songs.  The Water Goblin portrayed in Erben's poem and used by Dvorak is most certainly not comical!  A short sketch of the poem and story:

A mother warns her daughter to stay away from the nearby lake because of a dream she has had about the water goblin. The daughter ignores the warning, goes to the lake and just as she begins to do her laundry she falls in. The goblin claims her as his wife. Her existence is sorrowful in his watery kingdom, but they have a child that is the only light in her life.  She begs the Goblin to let her go see her mother one more time.  The Goblin thinks it over and reluctantly agrees but on three conditions; She mustn't kiss or embrace anyone; she must return after one day as soon as the bells ring out for Vespers; and lastly she must leave the child with him as a hostage to guarantee her return.  The woman leaves and after a sad meeting between her and her mother the evening bell tolls, but her mother holds her back and prevents he leaving, which enrages the Goblin. He knocks on the door, saying the child must be fed. The mother refuses to open the door and demands the child be left with them. The Goblin is blinded by rage, and after awhile he returns to the lake. After a violent crash during a storm, the mother and daughter open the door and find the headless body of the child on the doorstep.

Pretty gruesome stuff for sure, but such is the way of folktales sometimes. The music is some of the best Dvorak ever wrote for orchestra.  Rich in tone and orchestral color, it is a piece written by a master of the orchestra. And with the use of a little imagination, you can hear The Water Goblin cavorting through the orchestra.   


  1. Great piece! Reminds me a lot of Le Chassuer Maudit of Franck.

  2. I just got recently into Dvorak! Thank you! I wanted to know this story.