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Czech spirit

LAWRENCE BUDMEN is impressed by
Zdenek Macal and the New World Symphony


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a wave of cultural nationalism swept through the lands of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia. In music, Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) and Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904) led the way. Both composers wrote scores that were imbued with the spirit of incipient Czech nationalism. (After World War I, the lands would unite as Czechoslovakia.) Dvorák's friend Leos Janácek (1854-1928) brought a unique folk based Modernism to this new cultural nationalism. Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) fused Czech elements with a sophisticated embrace of Gallic elegance and Stravinsky inspired neo-classicism. Sadly some of the Czech lands' most gifted creative musicians (the brilliant Viktor Ullmann, the innovative Hans Krasa and Pavel Haas) perished in Nazi death camps. Today Karel Husa (born 1921), now an American citizen, is the last composer in the Czech nationalist tradition. Josef Suk (1874-1935), Dvorák's son in law, is a neglected figure. While his violin vignettes are occasionally played, Suk's major scores are rarely heard. The music of this grandly romantic composer took center stage on 28 March 2004 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach, Florida, USA when the New World Symphony presented orchestral works 'In the Czech Style' under the baton of the great Czech conductor Zdenek Macal.

In 1899-1900 Suk compiled a symphonic suite from the incidental music he had composed for the Czech dramatist Julius Zeyer's play Radaz and Mahulena. The Pohadka ('Fairy Tale') Op 16 is music of sensuous beauty and rich orchestral color. The play was apparently a sort of 'Magic Flute' -- a tale of a Prince and Princess who must undergo various trials before they can be united. Suk imbued this fable with a score that defines Romanticism. The rapturous love music of the first movement is worthy of Wagner or Strauss. The scherzo, 'Playing at Swans and Peacocks', has a Czech vigor and colorful orchestral palette right out of Dvorák's Slavonic Dances. The 'Mourning Music' is both solemn and eloquent -- achieved with the utmost compositional simplicity. The concluding triumph music is stirring, the gorgeous love theme returning for one final appearance.

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Copyright © 27 April 2004 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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