Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Recent concerts (2)

Jane and me at the URC a couple of weeks ago. A risky affair (the pieces are hard but not that showy - d'oh) that came out well in the end, praise the Lord!

LEOŠ JANÁČEK (1854-1928)


The mature Janáček was ahead of his time, writing raw, angular music in a modern style. The Dumka, however, comes from the period during which Janáček was still under the influence of Dvořák and other Romantic composers. It was written around 1880 in Leipzig where he was studying and follows a simple ABA form. Many of these early works have been lost, fortunately not this velvety Dumka (a Slavic word for a melancholy ballad).

Historical note: to be precise, Janáček was not from Bohemia, but from neighbouring Moravia, the eastern part of present-day Czech Republic. Other famous Moravians include Sigmund Freud (psychoanalyst), Edmund Husserl (philosopher), Kurt Godel (mathematician) and Tom Stoppard (playwright).

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Sonata in F major, Op. 57
1. Allegro, ma non troppo
2. Poco sostenuto
3. Allegro molto

The son of a butcher, Dvořák began his professional musical life as a viola player (in the orchestra conducted by Smetana) before finding success within Bohemia with the cantata Hymnus (1873) and across Europe with his “Moravian Duets” (1876). He devoted himself to composition and musical education and achieved tremendous popularity in England and the United States (where he wrote his famous New World Symphony). The Violin Sonata of 1880 is a conventional work with an unassuming opening movement in sonata form, punctuated by unusual accents and phrases that show Dvořák’s love of folk music. The second movement is compact, and similarly unpretentious, made up of graceful falling phrases combined with rising arpeggios. In the middle section Dvořák uses a device called “hemiola”, weaving the rhythms of 2-in-a-bar together with 3-in-a-bar, a very common feature of his nationalistic works like the Slavonic Dances. The finale is based on a simple dance-like melody, and Dvořák crams in a lot of notes!

Romantic Pieces, Op. 75

1. Allegro moderato

2. Allegro maestoso

3. Allegro appassionato

4. Larghetto

Dvořák’s gift for melody is particularly evident in the first and third of these charming pieces, which remind me of a cradle song and of a brisk walk through the countryside. The brutal second has the flavour of the furiant (a Slavonic Dance), while the mysterious fourth provides a surprising conclusion to the set.


Aus der Heimat
1. Moderato
2. Andantino – Moderato – Allegro vivo – Presto

For centuries the Hussites and Protestants of Bohemia and Moravia had been oppressed by the Pope and the Catholic Habsburgs. In the nineteenth century there was a rise in nationalist sentiment and increased interest in politics on the part of ordinary people. As a young man Smetana took part in the failed 1848 rebellion against the Habsburg Empire. After touring Europe as a pianist and teaching at a conservatiore in Sweden he returned home and won popular acclaim for his operas. His musical gifts caught the mood of the people and he inspired generations of composers, becoming known as the father of Czech music. The title of this work means “From My Homeland” and is full of local colour and drama. The first piece is predominantly calm and lyrical, the second is full of passion, almost operatic in conception, and is a real violin showpiece (with some ‘pub piano’ accompaniment).