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My second reservation is related to Hurwitz's attempt to clear Dvorák of all previous charges. Because of his music's surface charm, many compare him unfavorably to more 'serious' composers. Hurwitz says that Dvorák understood the rules -- that he was as capable as Brahms of using strict classical forms, but chose a less restrictive path. He pushes his case however until he begins to sound defensive and unintentionally less convincing. In comparing Dvorák's 6th Symphony to the Brahms 2nd for example, he says, 'the Dvorák is more heroic in tone, more rhythmically lively, and believe it or not (my emphasis), a bit more compact in structure'. He would be more likely to win converts if he let his judgments and the music stand up for themselves with fewer reminders that we may not be swayed.
These quibbles aside, there is much to admire. The book is divided into six main sections. The first argues persuasively for Dvorák's versatility. Hurwitz is convinced that the composer wrote more than one masterpiece in every major format -- that he was indeed 'the most versatile genius', besting his strongest competitors in one or more categories, Tchaikovsky in chamber music and Brahms in opera for example. After this case is made, the five remaining sections describe the composer's contributions in each major format: symphonies and concertos, operas, chamber works, choral music and songs, and, finally, miscellaneous orchestral works.
A total of approximately ninety pieces are discussed, typically in a page or two each. Compared to the book devoted to Mozart, there is less explanation of technical terms, such as sonata form, and less phrase-by-phrase analysis. There is, on the other hand, far more discussion of orchestration, mood, and style.
Copyright © 1 February 2007
Ron Bierman, California USA