Time for the great Czech master, Antonin Dvorak.
Dvorak wrote nine symphonies, of which I’m going to focus on the last three, or at least as far as we know are the last three. The numbering of Dvorak’s symphonies is a rather messy affair: what is commonly thought of as the Ninth was originally published as the Fifth; the symphony up for consideration today was originally published as the Second but is now considered the Seventh.
Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony (“From the New World”) is so well-known and frequently performed that it actually tends to overshadow the rest of Dvorak’s symphonic output, which is quite a shame as I’ve yet to hear a work of Dvorak’s — in any genre or form — that didn’t have a great deal of charm, melodic invention, fine orchestration, thrilling gift of rhythm, and most important of all, a feeling of folk dance. Dvorak was a Czech national through-and-through, and the native tunes and rhythms of his country shine in everything he wrote. The Seventh Symphony is a perfect example of this, with its emotional intensity and stormy passages juxtaposed with moments of tranquility.
My favorite movement of this symphony is the Scherzo, which is likely because I actually got to perform it in my student days, at the summer music camp I attended. I’ve always found Dvorak to be a wonderful “gateway composer” for introducing people to classical music — not that he’s demanding, but his music is enjoyable on a lot of different levels. There is profundity, but there is also melody; there is long-form symphonic thought, but there is also dance.
Here is Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony. Next week, my favorite of Dvorak’s symphonies — the wonderful Eighth!