THU, JUL 26, 2018, 8:00 PM
Kaul Auditorium, Reed College
3203 Southeast Woodstock Boulevard,
Portland, Oregon 97202
Part one of our Dvořák celebration: the Miró Quartet, Montrose Trio, and violinist Aloysia Friedmann come together for a Dvořák concert that includes his classic string sextet, Op. 51 piano quartet, and Goin’ Home, a new arrangement of the Largo from his New World Symphony, by All Classical Portland’s own Robert McBride.
DVOŘÁK (arr. Robert McBride) Goin’ Home (Largo) from the New World Symphony
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Robert McBride, arranger (b._)
Goin’ Home (Largo) from the New World Symphony
From 1892 to 1895, Antonín Dvořák was the director of the now-defunct National Conservatory of Music of America, in New York City. It was during that period that he wrote his last symphony, subtitled “From the New World.” The most famous melody in that work is in the slow movement, where it’s presented as a plaintive solo for the English horn. One of Dvořák’s students at the conservatory was an American composer named William Arms Fisher, and it was his idea to give words to that tune and arrange it for voice and piano. He said:
“The Largo, with its haunting English horn solo, is the outpouring of Dvořák’s own home-longing, with something of the loneliness of far-off prairie horizons, the faint memory of the red-man’s bygone days, and a sense of the tragedy of the black-man as it sings in his ‘spirituals.’ Deeper still it is a moving expression of that nostalgia of the soul all human beings feel. That the lyric opening theme of the Largo should spontaneously suggest the words ‘Goin’ home, goin’ home’ is natural enough, and that the lines that follow the melody should take the form of a negro spiritual accords with the genesis of the symphony.”
For my version I used only Fisher’s words, and arranged the music directly from the orchestral score. As you listen you might think about something else written by Mr. Fisher:
“Blessed are the music-makers, for they shall uplift and unite the Earth.”
—© Robert McBride
DVOŘÁK Sextet for Two Violins, Two Violas and Two Cellos in A Major, Op. 48
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
“A first hearing of the entire composition involves a series of surprises, so unexpected and new are the abounding touches of the master’s hand. Clearly we must know much more of Dvořák, and that soon.” –Opus 48 review in the London Daily Telegraph, March 11, 1880
Antonín Dvořák wrote his String Sextet in A Major, Op. 48, just after finishing his first set of Slavonic Dances, the work that introduced him to audiences outside his homeland; he was also in the midst of completing his Slavonic Rhapsodies for Orchestra. Not surprisingly, this part of Dvořák’s life (1878–early 1880s) is often referred to as his “Slavonic” period, because his music featured Czech/Bohemian/Moravian elements, especially folk dances or melodies modeled after folk songs.
Renowned violinist/composer Joseph Joachim championed the sextet, and performed in its premiere in Berlin in 1879. Thanks to Joachim, Opus 48 was Dvořák’s first chamber work heard outside Bohemia, and helped boost Dvořák’s reputation in Europe and elsewhere. After its German premiere, Joachim took the sextet to London, where it was warmly received. Over the following year, several other ensembles presented the sextet in venues throughout Europe and New York City.
“In his Sextet, every theme is like a drop of Slavonic blood,” wrote Dvořák’s biographer Otakar Šourek. Of particular interest are the two middle movements, based on two folk dances: a dumka and furiant. The introspective dumka usually features themes of differing character, but in this instance, Dvořák maintains a gentle melancholy throughout, saving the contrast until the furiant explodes in a rhythmically boisterous whirlwind of sound.
DVOŘÁK Quartet for Piano and Strings in E-flat major, Op. 87
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Only 11 years separate Dvořák’s sextet from his Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 87; in that time Dvořák morphed from a relatively unknown Bohemian violist living in the backwaters of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to an internationally renowned composer and a champion of Czech culture. At age 48, Dvořák’s compositional self-confidence was at its height. Opus 87 is music written by a man who knew what he wanted to say and had mastered his craft.
The Allegro con fuoco begins with the strings’ emphatic statement in E-flat major, but the piano’s entrance immediately confounds our ears with its unexpected response in B-flat minor. In just a few bars, Dvořák signals the harmonic inventiveness, musical complexity, and shifting moods of the whole movement. The simplicity of the cello solo in the Lento provides the perfect contrast to the Allegro’s intricacy. With minimal accompaniment, the cello’s five linked melodies exude serenity, briefly broken by a turbulent interlude in a contrasting key. In the third movement, Dvořák hints at Middle Eastern sonorities with a melody based on an augmented minor scale. The grace and elegance of the waltz-like theme is juxtaposed with a highly rhythmic section that races through tonalities with the ease of a horse galloping over a meadow. Like the opening movement, the Finale is designed to bewilder, with its opening E-flat minor (rather than E-flat major) theme. Dvořák, like Brahms, never seems at a loss for melodic ideas, and he demonstrates this flair with a series of buoyant, well-crafted tunes, several of which are first introduced by his favorite instrument, the viola.
On August 10, 1889, Dvořák wrote to a friend, “I have already three movements of a new quartet with piano completely ready and the finale will be finished in several days. It’s going unexpectedly easily and melodies are coming to me in droves.”