Thursday, April 12, 2012: Diversifying Dvořák

Antonín Dvořák

Dvořák with his beloved family, at the time of their voyage to America

Diversifying Dvořák: Beyond ‘Easy Antonín’

Finding concerts featuring works by Antonín Dvořák is no problem, especially in Prague. Posters and placards boast concerts daily by the famous Czech (along with other top names such as Mozart and Vivaldi) hoping, no doubt, to draw in the tourism crowds.

But don’t be afraid to go a little beyond the short classical “easy listening” pieces such as his beloved “Humoresque” for the violin, or “Songs My Mother Taught Me” for soprano soloist. A master is a master, in any form or style, no matter how massive the music.

And Dvořák truly is a master.

We saw this again during the Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK) Prague Easter Festival. It was Dvořák’s large Stabat Mater, Opus 58 performed on Good Friday that reminded us of this fact.

Not too sure about attending a cantata, this two-hour nonstop performance based on church liturgy? Or other works you don’t know? Never fear: you can trust Dvořák, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, and its outstanding guest artists to deliver top-notch and painless performances of the real thing – serious, professional music by committed musicians.

Opus Osm

Dvořák wrote the Stabat following the death of three of his children.

In the case of this concert, we also have to point out the excellent program notes by Viktor Hruška, in both Czech and English, available for purchase there. “As a composer, there probably isn’t a musical genre Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) didn’t try his hand on. Dvořák is undoubtedly the most famous Czech symphonist, but apart from symphonies he composed sublime music in other genres which are easily worthy of as much note as the legendary Symphony from the New World. Spiritual music in Dvořák’s writing does not fall strictly within a time period linked to personal events, as is often the case with other composers. It was an integral part of all of his creative life.”

And there you have, in just the first four sentences, more understandable, helpful information about Dvořák and classical music than you could ever learn by merely attending an entertaining street-level performance. Already you know the era in which Dvořák lived and worked; his diversity; his identity as a famous, Czech, symphony composer, including his most famous example (handy for future name-dropping); the common use of religious themes in classical music generally, and how Dvořák was different.

And that’s even before the concert master has played the “A” to tune the orchestra!

Yes, the performance was truly outstanding, inspiring, and memorable, and we learned more about Dvořák by being there. But we must also applaud the expertise and care of some little-recognized supporting players — the author and producers of the program notes.

Getting information about Czech classical compositions and their composers in diverse ways – in addition to listening to the music – helps us understand and appreciate their diverse, glorious gifts, far beyond the easy “Top Tens” on the tourists’ charts. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top: The Antonín Dvořák Museum, Prague; bottom, Miroslav Setnička

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