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<<  -- 3 --  Roderic Dunnett    LIFE AND EXPERIENCE


'Dvorák and Brahms had a well-documented admiration for each other, and for each other's music : Dvorák, in particular, was much impressed during the 1870s by Brahms's clarity of sound and structure, and this admiration continued. Dvorák's 7th symphony, for example (the second D minor), was a clear attempt to show he could build a large scale symphonic development like Brahms, and he was thrilled when Brahms praised it. Dvorák's Symphonic Variations likewise took Brahms's Haydn Variations as their model.

'Another Czech composer I conduct a good bit is Dvorák's son-in-law, Josef Suk, whose String Serenade is nowadays popular worldwide. There are major symphonic poems like Ripening, written for a huge Straussian orchestra; and of course the dark and prophetic Asrael Symphony. Actually Suk wasn't as fervent a Catholic as Dvorák, but his Meditation on the St Wenceslas Chorale is very beautiful and deeply felt. It's not a huge piece, more a quiet reflection starting from the chorale and developing a certain drama midway through, with a moment of inspired clarity at the end, as high chords soothe away the preceding tensions.

'Janácek is another composer I have many encounters with, and for me they're always rewarding. The autobiographical aspect is very big in Janácek's operas, Osud, Mr Broucek, even Jenufa. The House of the Dead is a staggering work : right from the start you sense the tense prison atmosphere. But I think it actually reflects Janácek's whole life and experience. He struggled terribly in the early years, he felt deprived and not understood. Yet he persisted and retained belief in his own music. That personal struggle permeates The House of the Dead : every note he writes is so full of passion.

'As with Taras Bulba, It's difficult to express exactly what the specifically "Czech" element in Janácek consists of : it's a combination of its rhythmic and melodic roots in folk music, yet they aren't quotations : what Janácek captures is the spirit of what the nation has gone through, somehow transforming the very essence of this into music.'

Copyright © 27 September 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK


Dvorák's New World Symphony and Symphonic Variations were recorded earlier this year by Jirí Belohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on Supraphon SU 3639-2. Belohlávek's recording with the CPO of Martinu's Symphonies 5 and 6 appears on Supraphon SU 3645-2131 next month (October 2002).



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