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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Columbus Symphony: Haydn, Dvorak and Theofanidis

Robert Moody

Christopher Theofanidis

The Columbus Symphony performs Dvorak's Symphony 7 in D minor, op. 70; Haydn's Cello Concerto in C, HobVIIb No 1, and Muse by Christopher Theofanidis. March 18-19 in the Ohio Theater. Guest conductor is Robert Moody, with Mark Kosower, cello.

Pre-concert talks one hour before each performance.

MUSE by Christopher Theofanidis is a 12 minute piece for strings and harpsichord. It was written for The Brandenburg Project, sponsored by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestras. Six composers were selected to write pieces based on each of Bach's Brandenburg Concerti, with the idea of creating a catalog of concerti for the 21st century. Theonfanidis (b. 1967-) was told to use the 3rd Brandenburg. Muse uses an especially lovely pulse in the second movement (below @ 3:00)

Antonin Dvorak's Seventh Symphony, considered by many his greatest works,  owes its existence to a 'perfect storm'. Dvorak by the 1880s had become a well regarded musician and composer whose career was confined to the Slavic countries. His use of Czech folk music, the titles given some of his works (Slavonic Dances) isolated his career from the mainstream: the German-Austro world of Schumann, Brahms and Wagner.

It was Brahms who became a mentor to Dvorak and recommended him to the Viennese publisher Fritz Simrock. Herr Simrock was a businessman first. He expected a more worldly composer than Dvorak but was happy to publish the Slavic spiced short pieces which were good sellers for home music making. Added to this was the encouragement of music's mightiest music journalist of the time, Eduard Hanslick, who wrote Dvorak,

It would be advantageous for your works to become known outside of your narrow Czech fatherland, which in any case does not do much for you.

But you don't become a world famous composer by writing Slavic Dances.

Antonin Dvorak (1840-1901)
Dvorak's Stabat Mater had made a big hit at several of the large British choral festivals, and by 1884 the composer had been invited to write a new work for the London Philharmonic Society. Here at last was the big time. He was also trying to complete an opera for Vienna, but when that project stalled he went to work on his Symphony. The first performance of the 7th, conducted by the composer in London was a smash. The Vienna premiere conducted by Hans Richter put Dvorak on the intentional map.

The Seventh Symphony is pure music. It was inspired by Brahms Symphony 3, and Brahms was adamant that none of his symphonic music had a program. It wasn't supposed to be about anything. He had encouraged Dvorak to eschew the folk music style that had guaranteed his career to date. Outside of the Czech countries Dvorak had seemed provincial. Not with the 7th in London and in Vienna.

The work is in four movements and is scored for large orchestra. The theme of the first movement came not in a dream or in a lightning flash of inspiration, but at the railway station. Dvorak loved trains almost as much as he loved music. It was the arrival of a band of Hungarian artists at  Prague that Dvorak said gave him the Symphony's principal theme. Brooding, expectant, dramatic.

The second movement in particular is the source of lovely melody. It is only in the third, with the use of the furiant, a dance rhythm in 3 subdivided with in 2-3 or 3-3 that he nods more toward Prague than Vienna

Dvorak fell out with Simrock over billing. He insisted that his name be spelled in the Czech way, Antonin. Simrock said the German Anton was better business. I just wanted to tell you that a composer has a homeland which he must serve with faith and which he must love. 

It wasn't easy to give up a nationalistic style, and Dvorak often returned to the dance rhythms and colors of Czech speakers. Ironically, Dvorak later made a career in America, where he was considered the most cosmopolitan of composers. But that's another story.

If Dvorak's Seventh Symphony owes trains, Brahms, Hanslick and Simrock for its inspiration, Haydn's Cello Concerto in C wasn't known to exist at all until 1961  (Haydn died in 1809) .  The score was found among musical detritus in the Prague National Museum by musicologist Oldrich Plunkert.
Mark Kosower

How to authenticate the work unknown for so long? The first movement, not in Haydn's hand had been listed in the composer's own catalog of his works. The pages found had initials and a dedication to Joseph Weigl, who we can authenticate served as cellist of the Esterhazy Orchestra during the 1760s.

We have a three movement work enhanced by the use of ritornelli, a principal theme that keeps 'returning' usually for full orchestra. The cello is not an easy instrument for which to write a concerto. The instrument's low, mellow tone was not designed to cut through an orchestra. By giving the tutti-the entire band its own opportunities to shine,  Haydn can give pride of place to the cello,  either in the long lines favored in the second movement, or the intricate filigree of the first, and the finale. Whether discovered in 1760 or 1961, Haydn's Cc Major Concerto for Cello is another work loaded with that composer's skill and wit. And remember, Haydn was writing as composer in residence of a wealthy, noble family. The greater the music, the greater their prestige.

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