Dvorak – Slavonic Dances, op. 72 nos. 1-4
by Jeff Counts
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, strings
Duration: 18 minutes in four movements.
THE COMPOSER – ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) – Dvořák began a series of fruitful visits to England in 1884 that afforded him a luxury unknown to many 19th (or any) century composers – financial security. England also offered a respite from the cultural politics of the European mainland and Dvořák used his new resources to further buffer himself by purchasing a country home in southern Bohemia where he could be “cut off from the world.”
THE MUSIC – One of the irritants Dvořák sought refuge from was the rising tension with his publisher. Simrock was offering the composer about half of what he was expecting for the 7th Symphony and the impasse threatened to ruin their long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship. Compromise was reached when Dvořák submitted to Simrock’s anxious request for a second set of Slavonic Dances. Dvořák got his full fee for the symphony and Simrock got a chance to see if lighting could strike twice. The first Slavonic Dances had been wildly successful for both men in 1878. Dvořák referred to them during the later negotiations as “a gold mine which cannot be easily underestimated…” though Simrock needed no reminding. In the eight years between the first and second Slavonic Dances Dvořák had gone from a budding star to an established one. Though he had agreed to take on the project, Dvořák was a mature symphonist in 1886 and he was unsure about how to tackle such “light music.” He instinctively knew that repeating the magic would be “devilishly difficult” but he found the way forward quickly enough by utilizing all of the available depth and nuance of his compositional maturity. Unlike the previous Bohemia-inspired dances, the first four numbers in the new cycle were drawn from a more general Slavonic folk tradition, this time by way of Slovakian, Moravian and Ukrainian influences. The orchestration of the piano four-hands version was completed in 1887.
THE WORLD – The Serbo-Bulgarian War officially ended in 1886 with the Treaty of Bucharest. Also that year, Burma came under British rule, the Haymarket Riot was sparked in Chicago and Austrian Wilhelm Steinitz became the first recognized World Chess Champion.
THE CONNECTION – While all of the Slavonic Dances appear regularly on other Utah Symphony programs, the Op. 72 set has never been programmed on a Masterworks concert