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BILL NEWMAN discusses the
orchestral music of Víteslav Novák


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Novák. Lady Godiva etc. BBC Philharmonic/Pesek. (c) 2000 Chandos Records Ltd.Lady Godiva (1907) is just one piece he wrote for the theatre - ballet scores like 'Nikotina' are another example. Jaroslav Vrchlicky presented the play that opened the new Municipal Theatre - now known as the Vinohrady - choosing as his subject Lady Godiva and her protest against the tax laws imposed by her husband Leofric, Lord of Coventry. Subert, the theatre director asked Carl Foerster to write a Festival Overture to open the establishment, but Novák was commissioned to compose his  overture for the play. Womanly virtue, sacrifice and nobility shine through in her stance to offset her husband's selfishness. Like a Strauss tone poem, the scoring is opulent, wide-ranging, but unmistakably Czech in its harmonic language.

Toman and the Wood Nymph (1906-7) in three sections is far more exploratory, portraying woman's destructive side and quest for power. Based on Celansky's poet-setting of folk legend, Novák's condensation sets the overall mood: 'Impelled by a strange restlessness, Toman decided to visit his lover on Midsummer Eve. He was not mistaken; she had forsaken him for someone else. He went off to the forest and died in the arms of a woodland fairy.' Here I must slightly disagree with my colleague Graham Melville-Mason who wrote the liner note, when he states that the composer was not interested in the highly-strung early works of Arnold Schoenberg. Unless my ears deceive me, there is something distinctly similar to the Austrian's Gurrelieder in the rich scoring; the closing pages also having an harmonic progression almost identical to Schoenberg's Pelléas and Mélisande.

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Copyright © 1 July 2000 Bill Newman, Edgware, Middlesex, UK






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