Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dvořák - Symphony No. 7 In D Minor

Antonín Dvořák began to plan his 7th Symphony after he had heard the 3rd Symphony of Johannes Brahms. Dvořák admired Brahms' new symphony and it inspired him to write a new one of his own.  Brahms had befriended the younger composer and helped him get his works published. Shortly after Dvořák had heard the Brahms' 3rd Symphony, he had been made an honorary member of the Philharmonic Society of London on the basis of the popularity of Dvořák's music in England. To further honor the composer, the organization commissioned Dvořák to write a new symphony.

Dvořák took the membership and commission (the 7th was the only symphony written on commission) as an honor as well as an opportunity. He saw the chance for his symphonic music to reach a larger audience as well as show his support for the political struggles of the Czechs.  The symphony was begun in December of 1884 and completed March 1885. The first performance was April of 1885 in London with Dvořák himself conducting the orchestra. The symphony was a great success at its premiere, but Dvořák had to go through protracted negotiations with his publisher to publish it.

The 7th is unique among Dvořák's symphonies for its tragic undertones as well as the lessening of native Czech music influence. It was not possible for Dvořák to write music that eschewed completely the influence of his native land, but the 7th combines those influences with a more Germanic musical language.

Dvořák is seldom thought of as an overly ambitious composer. His personality was such that he maintained an honest humility most of the time, but the 7th Symphony shows that he did want his music heard by a larger audience, perhaps an audience as large as his friend Brahms' music.

The 7th Symphony is in 4 movements:
I. Allegro maestoso -  The music begins with the first theme in a movement that has many. The first theme reaches a climax after much expansion where upon the second main theme of more lyricism begins. The first theme is played again in the major mode with all indications of a repeat of the exposition, but it leads directly to the development section, which is rather short.  The recapitulation is condensed, as both themes are worked through.  The first theme returns and builds to a dramatic climax. The first theme is quietly stated once again as the music slowly evaporates.

II.  Poco adagio in F major -  At the time of the writing of the symphony, Dvořák had recently experienced two personal losses; the death of his mother and the institutionalization of his friend and fellow Czech composer Smetana.  The music of this movement is melancholy with bursts of passion with an ending almost inaudible.

III. Scherzo: Vivace – Poco meno mosso -  The movement that reflects Dvořák's Czech heritage, as it is a Furiant, a dance of Bohemia. The music trips along as some instruments play in three to the bar while others play in two to the bar cross rhythms. The trio is in a more idyllic mood and is extended out more than usual as Dvořák elaborates at length. The trio is beaten into silence by material that leads to the return of the scherzo.  The coda of the scherzo floats the feeling of tragedy from the first two movements over to the violent ending of this movement.

IV. Finale: Allegro -  The first theme begins with a grand sigh from the low strings which leads to the rest of the first theme. Then follows a march like second theme. Other minor themes that are played until a third main theme in A major is heard. The development section with a working out of the first theme which builds to an appearance of the march theme. The development of the first theme returns as lead in to a highly condensed recapitulation where the first theme gains in power and passion.  The third theme repeats, a coda builds until the music shifts to a D major ending.

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