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Featured Section: Dvorak's Cycle of Three Symphonic Poems

The MHS Review 379 Vol. 11, NO. 1 • 1987

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David M. Greene


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By 1891 Antonin Dvorak's reputation was made. He had written all but one of his symphonies, all but one of his concerti, and 22 out of his 27 major chamber works. His music was known in the important Continental centers, including London, and he had just been invited by an American millionairess to head a major conservatory in New York. Early the next year, he sent his publisher a note saying that he had a trio (the "Dumky"), a cello rondo, amd most of three overtures on hand.

Dvorak conceived the "overtures" (really symphonic poems) as a cycle united by a single theme and conceiv­ed of as comments on ''nature, life, and love." But on mature consideration, he decided that they could each stand alone, in which case they would have to have more explicit titles. This gave him some small trouble. "Nature" bccam1: "In Nature's Realm" or "Amid Nature" (V prirode). "Life" took its original subtitle "Bohemian Carnival" or simply "Carnival." And "Love" became "Othello." The first has the simplest program, being merely a vision of a rural summer's evening exerting its magic. "Carnival," the noisiest and most popular of the three, is said to depict a traveler encountering a village fair in full swing and, watching a pair of lovers, remembering his own hap­piness with his faraway girl. For "Othello" Dvorak devised a 12-point parallel with the action of the play­--surprising when one recalls that it was conceived abstractly.

The Scherzo capriccioso was written eight years earlier and has no program. In his Great Composers Series book on Dvorak, Alec Robertson says that "it can take its place among the greatest short orchestral works by any com­poser," adding that "nowhere else is Dvorak so absolutely and defiantly himself as in this magnificent work." These are convincing readings, greatly enhanced by the digital sound.

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