Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dvořák - Symphony No. 6

Antonín Dvořák (1841- 1904) wrote nine symphonies, and it was with the 6th Symphony that he started to get international attention. It was written for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Hans Richter, but they did not play the symphony for 2 seasons because of the orchestra's prejudice against Czech composers.

Dvořák had contact with many of the composers of that time. He played viola in the orchestra that played under Wagner as conductor in Prague. He applied for a stipend from the Austrian State and he came to the attention of Johannes Brahms who was on the panel. Brahms and Dvořák became friends and Brahms helped him get his first compositions published.  He was influenced by the trends of the day, but developed his own style as all true geniuses do.

He finished the symphony in 1880 and the premiere was in 1881 by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.  The symphony has 4 movements:

I. Allegro non tanto - The first movement is in sonata form with the first theme slowly expanding with dance-like rhythms. The cellos and horns begin the second theme, a more expressive tune than the first. The development starts after the exposition repeat and Dvořák explores some of the possibilites of his two themes and brings the end of the section with a climax on a part of the first theme that fades into the recapitulation. The movement ends with a short coda.

II. Adagio - Gentle music in the beginning that grows more turbulent as the main theme is repeated in different instrument configurations. The movement ends gently, as it began.

III. Scherzo - Furiant, Presto - This movement is a Furiant, a Czech dance. Cross rhythms (2 notesd against 3 notes) gives a syncopated feeling to the scherzo. This was the type of nationalistic music that Dvořák had published in his Slavocian Dances for piano, later transcribed for orchestra. The slower, more laid-back trio contrasts the scherzo. At the end of the trio the scherzo is repeated.

IV. Finale - Allegro con spirito -  This movement is also in sonata form. The first theme of this movement is somewhat similair to the first theme of the first movement. The end of the recapitulation section is notable for a coda that treats  the first theme of the movement fugally. The symphony ends in in a triumphant mood with the brass contributing depth and weight.


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