Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dvořák's New World Symphony turns 120

This year's Tanglewood Festival gave us another opportunity to hear an old warhorse live once again. We each remarked just how American this music really was and still is, that is except for the trio of the third movement which is certainly completely Czech. Sitting under 20 rows from the stage, we got to experience all the Boston Symphony Orchestra had to deliver.

There are two versions of this piece for this post, an old favourite and a newer transcendental version. The first is by the redoubtable Cleveland Orchestra under the often inspired leadership of Georg Szell.  I recall vividly how those who regarded his conducting as the best were called Szellots. Contrast that performance, along with some of the more traditional orchestral tone with the newer approach of a Munich Philharmonic under the direction of Sergiu Celibidache who certainly had far different ideas concerning tempi and the critical parts played by solo instrumentalists throughout this unique masterpiece.

This symphony written and performed in 1893 must have been written rather quickly, taking the composer no more than a few months. It's difficult for us to understand just how much “local colour” he could have managed to get within himself in such a short period of time. It would be entirely fair to credit Dvořák with incredible powers of perception. Here he was, 52 years old, across a vast ocean in a new and very different country from Europe, a vast open country that spanned a continent, full of its own natural wonders and terrors. He would be in America about 3 years, he and his family. During that time he would write without question some of his greatest works. The same would later be true of other great European composers.

Listen now, once more to this music. Those who hear it for the first time, believe me when I say it, it still speaks tremendously about much that is true, real and everlasting concerning America.

Antonín Dvořák Symphony #9 in e “From the New World” Op. 95 
1. Adagio – Allegro molto
2. Largo
3. Scherzo: Molto vivace
4. Allegro con fuoco 

Version 2: Munich Philharmonic, Sergiu Celibidache

Dvořák and his family around 1893

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