Works for Orchestra
With his nine symphonies, Dvorák stands at the forefront of the great symphonists of nineteenth-century Classicism and Romanticism. The final three symphonies represent the culmination of the composer’s orchestral output and have become an essential part of the world’s symphonic repertoire.
Almost 30 years passed from the writing of the first and the last symphony (1865–1893). In the context of the development of Dvorák’s symphonic style, the first proof of mastery of the four-movement form is seen in Symphony no. 6 in D major op. 60 from 1880, which was also the first of his symphonies to be published (Simrock). Five years later, he composed Symphony no. 7 in D minor op. 70, whose dark and dramatic character is understood to be connected with the composer’s personal crisis in the mid-1880s. Its brooding atmosphere and overall gravity is in stark contrast both to its predecessor, the non-conflictual Symphony no. 6, and to its successor, the joyously vigorous Symphony no. 8 in G major op. 88 from 1889.
The whole music world was in for a shock with the premiere of Symphony no. 9 in E minor op. 95 “From the New World” in New York’s Carnegie Hall on 16 December 1893, which was the greatest triumph of Dvorák’s artistic career. His Ninth Symphony was born of the first year of the composer’s stay in the United States. The powerful impressions of this new environment, his financial independence, and the feeling of being an “ambassador” of Czech music combined with the ambition to prove he would meet these expectations – this all found Dvorák at the peak of his artistic abilities and contributed to the creation of a work of extraordinary qualities and supreme compositional mastery. The “New World Symphony” is the composer’s most popular work worldwide.
These last three symphonies have been published in new Urtext editions by Jonathan Del Mar, which experts regard as groundbreaking editorial achievements.
Symphony no. 7 in D minor op. 70
Symphony no. 8 in G major op. 88
Symphony no. 9 in E minor op. 95 „From the New World“
Dvorák’s extensive orchestral oeuvre incorporates all the forms and genres of the period. Besides symphonies and concertos, it includes four symphonic poems, concert overtures, suites, serenades, dances – namely, the best-selling Slavonic Dances. His trilogy of Slavonic Rhapsodies op. 45 was composed at the start of the three-year “Slavonic period” of 1878–1880, which was one of the most prolific times in Dvorák’s life. Although the rhapsodies were published under a single opus number (Simrock, 1879), they constitute three independent compositions. The new critical edition was prepared by Robert Simon.
The initial days of the “Slavonic period” also gave rise to the widely loved Serenade in D minor op. 44 for wind instruments, violoncello and double bass (1878), which was inspired by Mozart’s Serenade in B-flat major KV 361. Dvorák was already in high demand by that time, both within and without the borders of his homeland, and Simrock published the serenade immediately. However, the same cannot be said of the composer’s only slightly older Serenade in E major op. 22 for string orchestra from 1875. Although its premiere was an instant success, it was not taken up by any Czech publisher. It was finally taken to the printing press by Bote & Bock in 1879, almost concurrently with Simrock’s edition of Serenade in D minor. The joyful mood of both compositions, which are again imbued with Dvorák’s genius for small forms, reflect a happy period of the composer’s life, written with apparent ease and completed – in both cases – in the span of a mere fortnight.
The two serenades are now published in new Urtext editions by Robin Tait, which take into account all the available sources for the first time ever. The popular Serenade in E major includes Dvorák’s previously unpublished original concept with inserted Vi-de passage.
Serenade in E major is delightfully complemented by Nocturne in B major op. 40 for string orchestra, first published by Bote & Bocke in 1883. The editor Jonáš Hájek is drawing on a newly discovered source to prepare an authentic edition of Nocturne to be published in 2022, which overcomes the considerable confusion caused by the myriad versions of the work.
Dvorák’s orchestral juvenilia from the 1860s include Seven Pieces for Small Orchestra B 15. They were given this title when published as part of the complete edition, as their original purpose is uncertain. The most probable explanation is that Dvorák composed them according to contemporary custom as “entr’actes”, or interludes, to be played during the intervals of drama productions at the Provisional Theatre, where he was employed as a violist. Bärenreiter Praha has now produced new performance materials of the work for hire.