SUN, JUL 29, 2018, 4:00 PM
Lincoln Performance Hall, PSU
1620 SW Park Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97201
Festival Finale: A Dvořák Serenade
Part two of our Dvořák celebration: an all-star ensemble perform an all-Dvořák concert as a jubilant end to the 2018 Summer Festival, concluding with the timeless Serenade for Strings!
DVOŘÁK Sonatina in G Major, Op. 100
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
In the summer of 1893, Antonín Dvořák completed his Opp. 96 and 97 (a string quartet and quintet, respectively, both dubbed “American”). Upon the realization that he was approaching his “official” 100th opus, Dvořák decided to “skip” Nos. 98 and 99 (later assigning these numbers to subsequent works), and bestow Op. 100 on music inspired by and written for his six children. The resulting Sonatina in G Major is, in Dvořák’s words, “intended for young people (dedicated to my children) but grown-ups too … they’ll have fun playing it as well.” The music captures some of sounds and sights Dvořák absorbed while in America, particularly during a visit to Minnesota. Inspired by Longfellow’s poem Song of Hiawatha, which had been published in Czech translation in 1892, Dvořák traveled to Minnehaha Falls to behold the spectacular 53-foot waterfall. According to biographer John Clapham: “the sight of [it] gave the composer an inspiration for a melodic theme. For want of a piece of paper, he wrote this down on his starched cuff, and it later became the theme for Op. 100’s Larghetto.” This movement became so popular it was later published as a stand-alone work with evocative Romantic titles such as “Indian Lullaby,” or “Indian Lament.”
For all its simplicity and accessibility, Op. 100’s musical ideas are also highly inventive and developed in unexpected ways. As with other music Dvořák composed during his American sojourn, Op. 100 features Native American-inspired rhythms and melodies based on pentatonic (five note) scales.
DVOŘÁK String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, B. 179 (“American”)
Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904)
Allegro ma non troppo
Finale: Vivace ma non troppo
All fans of Dvořák’s “American” music owe a debt of gratitude to Josef Kovařík. If Dvořák had not met and befriended the young Czech-American violinist, he would not have written the String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, or the String Quintet, Op. 97 (both nicknamed “American”), nor would the summer of 1893, when Dvořák and his family spent the summer in a small town in northeastern Iowa, prove to be one of the most significant periods in the composer’s life.
Kovařík grew up in Spillville, Iowa, a small farming community settled by Czech and German immigrants, and he served as Dvořák’s personal assistant from 1892–95, while Dvořák headed the National Conservatory in New York City. Understanding Dvořák’s dislike of city life and his need for the slower pace and quiet of the countryside, Kovařík invited the composer and his family to leave behind the hustle and bustle of New York City and live in Spillville during the summer of 1893.
Spillville clearly agreed with Dvořák; within three days of his arrival, he began work on Op. 96. Dvořák wrote quickly, as was his wont, and finished the quartet two weeks later. Eager to hear his new work, Dvořák performed the first violin part, with members of the Kovařík family playing the other instruments, in the first performance in the music room of the Spillville school.
“When I wrote this quartet in the Czech community of Spillville in 1893, I wanted to write something for once that was very melodious and straightforward,” Dvořák later wrote. “Dear Papa Haydn kept appearing before my eyes, and that is why it all turned out so simply. And it’s good that it did.” In keeping with his focus on clear themes and ideas, Dvořák crafted many of the melodies from pentatonic scales, with basic, understated harmonic accompaniments.
Violists feel a particular kinship with Dvořák, himself an accomplished player. In Dvořák’s music, particularly his chamber works, the viola often takes center stage. Many of the American Quartet’s themes are first played by the viola, like the opening melody of the Allegro non tanto.
The unadorned melodies and ready accessibility of Op. 96 appealed to audiences from its first public performance by the Kneisel Quartet in Boston on New Year’s Day, 1894, and are part of the reason Op. 96 remains one of Dvořák’s most popular chamber works.
DVOŘÁK Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op. 22
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
In the summer of 1874, the 32-year-old Dvořák applied for a new scholarship offered by the Austrian Ministry of Education to young, poor, and talented artists living in the western portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Fortunately for Dvořák, the committee adjudicating the music applications included his mentor Johannes Brahms, along with the influential critic Eduard Hanslick. Upon awarding Dvořák the scholarship, the committee noted his “undoubted talent,” the fact that he could not afford a piano of his own, and stated that he deserved the scholarship in order to “free him from anxiety in his creative work.”
The Serenade for Strings in E Major emerges from a period of heightened self-confidence and optimism, just after Dvořák had won the scholarship. The financial cushion the scholarship released Dvořák from financial worries, and for the first time he could devote himself wholeheartedly to composition.
The Serenade’s five short movements reflect Dvořák’s sunny mood. Four of the movements use a straightforward three-part structure known as ABA: a central section contrasting with an opening movement whose melodic theme returns in the third section. The minuet contains all the grace and refinement one would expect, and its lilting melody conjures up elegant dancers whirling around a candlelit ballroom. The playful Scherzo bubbles with mirth, while its accompanying trio features a gentle melody. The Larghetto presents an interlude of dreamy quietude, in sharp contrast with the animated finale, which reprises both the Larghetto’s main theme and, in the closing bars, the primary melody of the opening Moderato.
—© Elizabeth Schwartz