Friday, February 5, 2010

Dvorak's New World by Solti

The first four symphonies of Dvorak were rejected by himself as immature and were omitted from his list of acknowledged works. Hence, this symphony was known as No. 5 till 1955. Earlier, his sixth symphony was published as No.1, Seventh as No. 2, Fifth as No. 3, Eighth as No.4 and occasionally labelled as 'Pastoral'.
NEW WORLD : This descriptive title is illuminating for this symphony. First, it sticks in the memory. Secondly, it reveals ethnic negro melodies adapted by Dvorak.
In 1891, Dvorak received a telegram from a wealthy American woman, Mrs. Jeanette M. Thurber, asking him to accept the post of Director at the National Conservatory of Music in New York founded by her some years earlier. Dvorak refused at first as he was reluctant to leave his native Czechoslovakia but was tempted later by the very large salary. When Dvorak reached New York in the autumn of 1892, he was the centre of attention of all musical circles. Mrs. Thurber wanted that Dvorak , who had produced a truly national music based on the folk music of his own country, should show Americans how to do the same thing with their own folk music. A close friend of Dvorak, Henry.E. Krehbiel, wrote that Dvorak held it to be the duty of composers to reflect in their music the spirit of the folk music of the people to whom they belong, not by using those tunes badly as themes, but by studying their characteristics and composing in their vein. Dvorak strove hard in his New World Symphony to reproduce the fundamental characteristics of the Red Indian and Negro melodies which he found in America. Henry Wordsworth Longfellow's ' Song of Hiawatha' made a deep impression on Dvorak as his notebooks show. Mrs. Thurber would have liked to see him make an opera of it but this did not work out. However, a tune jotted down by Dvorak in December 1892 under the heading 'Legend' became the theme of the middle section of the slow Largo movement of the symphony.
Like many nineteenth century symphonies, the New World exemplifies the cyclic principle of connecting the various movements thematically. In the slow introduction to the first movement, there is presented on the horns an emphatic rhythmic figure consisting of a rising arpeggio followed by a falling one.
This recurs as a motto theme in all the later movements. It is answered by a springily rhythmic phrase on the clarinets and bassoons. The second subject is announced on flutes and oboes. Near the end of the exposition, the flute plays a third lyrical tune. This theme carries over into the development. In the recapitulation, the first subject is much condensed and the second is elaborated and there is a coda based on the motto. The repeat in the exposition of this movement has been honoured only by Istvan Kertesz,Leonard Bernstein and Carlo Maria Giulini.
The Largo is made up of two memorable tunes. The first is on the cor anglais and the second is on flute and oboe.
The Scherzo is in the traditional form with a trio.In its coda, the motto theme again occurs.
In the finale, the massive main theme is announced by the horns and later passed to the strings. The second theme is accompanied on the cellos beneath a long breathed tune on the clarinet. The cor anglais tune from the Largo is brought forward now on the flute. A phrase from the Scherzo now comes on the violins and the motto theme as usual on the horns. In the viola counterpoint to this passage, there is a resemblance to 'Yankee Doodle'. Some recapitulation of the finale's own material follows until the motto theme heralds the coda in a grand thematic apotheosis.It is a magnificent work.
The noteworthy readings of this symphony in order are: Istvan Kertesz/London Symphony; Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic; Carlo Maria Giulini/Chicago Symphony; Sir Georg Solti/Chicago Symphony; Arturo Toscanini/NBC Symphony; Jascha Horenstein/Wiener Symphony; Vaclav Talich/Czech Philharmonic; Rudolf Kempe/Royal Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta/Los Angeles Philharmonic; Rafael Kubelik/Berlin Philharmonic; Herbert Von Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic.
The Kertesz set is the definitive for complete symphonies.The definitive version of Dvorak's New World Symphony is by Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic in the late sixties version on Columbia with the first movement repeat honoured and the climaxes being utterly blazing. Another performance that rivals Bernstein is by Istvan Kertesz and the London Symphony. This performance could also share the definitive stamp. I am attaching a Vienna Philharmonic reading of 1961 under Kertesz. Pay close attention to the intensity of the timpani. There are three other performances that have to be noted for excellent renditions of this symphony. They are Rudolf Kempe with the Royal Philharmonic, Herbert Von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Add to this the performances by Sir Georg Solti and Chicago as well as by Carlo Maria Giulini and Chicago Symphony.Royal Philharmonic Rudolf Kempe and Royal Philharmonic Paavo Jarvi.

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