Thursday, February 19, 2015

Beautiful, Warm Dvorak

My last post stated, “the show must go on,” and so it shall! The sidewalks are relatively clear, the heat in the Tennessee Theatre works, and we're looking forward to performing Antonin Dvorak's cantata Stabat Mater, tonight and Friday night at 7:30. We, meaning the Knoxville Symphony AND the Knoxville Choral Society.

This cantata, premiered in 1880, is Dvorak's first work on a religious theme. From the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), Dvorak's entry reads:  “English sympathy was entirely won by the Stabat Mater in 1883, and increased by the symphonies in D, D mi., and F, G, and E mi. (The American).” The entry goes on to describe the 9th symphony as “a pseudo-American symphony.” That is good company, considering Dvorak had major success only with the Serenade for Strings and a couple sheaves of Slavonic Dances to that point, in many more places than just England. This work is an example of a piece assigned a later opus number by some scoundrel publisher, in order to make the composer appear less accomplished. Its actual chronological point is around opus 40.

It is a very different sort of work from a composer we associate with secular music almost exclusively: expansive, patient, and inspiring but not morose, considering he had lost all three of his children in the three years previous to the work's premiere. His response was not to “take out his frustrations” on the music, but to hear a clear inner voice that instigated some beautifully crafted vocal lines and absorbing orchestration. 

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