Tickets and contact informationMore about tickets
Please contact the promoter of the concert for ticket information and availability.
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op 104
Symphony No 7 in D minor, Op 70
The Bartered Bride Overture
Partner of the tour in the USA is the Karel Komárek Family Foundation
Modern opera which is at the same time exclusively Czech was the goal set by Bedřich Smetana in Weimar in the autumn of 1857 in response to a malicious remark by the Viennese conductor Johann von Herbeck – that Czechs made excellent performing musicians but could not produce any original music characteristic of their nation. Smetana was deeply hurt by this statement and was determined to prove it wrong, swearing in his heart the greatest oath that he would dedicate his entire life to the creation of Czech national music. As we already know he kept his promise, although it took him some time. For a while, due to existential reasons he returned to Sweden to his work as the conductor of the Gothenburg Society for Classical Choral Music. Good news about changes in Prague’s cultural life, and the hope for the establishment of an independent Czech theatre, brought Smetana back home to Bohemia in the spring of 1861. His first contribution to the Czech operatic art was a complicated historical drama, The Brandenburgers in Bohemia. At the time of its completion he began to note down what was to become the most famous Czech opera, The Bartered Bride. He worked on it slowly and fastidiously, revising it several times after its unsuccessful premiere in the spring of 1866, until it reached a form he was fully satisfied with. Untypically of him, the first thing he wrote was the energetic overture (Vivacissimo) with a long fugato played by the strings, which exudes the positive atmosphere of the whole work. The final version of the charming comic opera The Bartered Bride was first heard in September 1870 at the Provisional Theatre in Prague, achieving international recognition as late as 1892 thanks to the successful tour of the Prague National Theatre at the Vienna Music and Theatre Exhibition of 1892. Its London premiere took place three years later.
The year 1896 was important for the history of Czech music for two reasons: on 4 January, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra was founded, and on 19 March, Antonín Dvořák conducted the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 during his ninth and final concert tour in England. Although Dvořák was very happy about this composition, even writing about the “pure joy” which this work brought to him, in his modesty he could not know or guess that it would become one of his most frequently performed pieces, and for many people the best cello concerto ever, sometimes called the “king”. The paradox is that Dvořák had never been particularly drawn to the concertante form and did not recognise the cello as a solo instrument: he actually complained that it “whinges up above, and grumbles down below”. Nevertheless, by serendipitous circumstances, in the autumn of 1894 he decided to compose a concerto for cello. His first attempt at a solo concerto for this instrument was made almost thirty years ago, but Dvořák held this early concerto in such low regard that he did not mind the loss of its autograph (found after the composer’s death) and never included it in any list of his works.
The first and the most important impulse for Dvořák to choose this genre was a cello concerto by the American composer and cellist Victor Herbert. At that time, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory in New York; Herbert taught the cello there and was also the principle cellist with the New York Philharmonic Society. Dvořák was so excited by Herbert’s work that he studied its score in great detail and several months later began to compose his own cello concerto. Perhaps in line with the deeply intimate Biblical Songs created in the spring of 1894, Dvořák continued on this personal level, revealing in his new work his experiences at that particular time in his life: being homesick and missing his children (except for his son Otakar who was with him in the U.S., his other five children remained in Bohemia), longing after his summer home in Vysoká, where he could work undisturbed, and reminiscing about gravely ill Josefina Kounitzová, his sister-in-law and friend, whom Dvořák had loved in the past. The combination of Dvořák’s creative élan and inner melancholy gave rise to his innermost composition, dominated by a firm compositional order, which is not without hope. Josefina is memorialized in the concerto by the melody of Dvořák’s song Leave Me Alone from the cycle Four Songs, Op. 82, of which Josefina was particularly fond.
The concerto is in three movement. It opens with a grandiose orchestral introduction, expanding from two main themes. While the first is characterized by bigger melodic intervals, the second theme consists of a sweet, gentle melody. A seemingly spontaneous idea was born after a long and laborious struggle, after which Dvořák found its correct form. He himself admitted that the lyrical theme of the introductory Allegro made him tremble. In the second movement he went even further, creating one of his most impressive lyrical expressions. This is where the quotation from the song Leave Me Alone is heard. Then comes the rondo, which represents the symbol of hope, of resurrection after a dark night on the cross, an image of the pain transformed. Dvořák wrote it a few weeks before he left New York for good; this might be why it is elated by an eager expectation, which, however, was spoiled upon Dvořák’s return to Bohemia by the news of Josefina’s premature death. In response to this sad fact, Dvořák radically changed the conclusion of the whole concert, inserting a new section of sixty bars before the original short coda, after which the solo violin again quotes Josefina’s favourite song.
The world premiere of the concerto was held in London’s Queen’s Hall on 19 March 1896 and was conducted by the composer himself. Originally, the composition was to be premiered by Dvořák’s close friend and mentor of the cello part, Hanuš Wihan, to whom the work was dedicated, but in the end its performance was entrusted to a young English cellist, Leo Stern. It is rumoured that the change of cellists was caused by Wihan’s rather insensitive insistence to play his own virtuoso cadenza, which Dvořák resolutely rejected, but the real reason was probably bad timing. Stern went to see Dvořák in Bohemia and worked hard with him, practising almost seven hours a day in order to master it because the composition was extremely difficult for him in terms of intonation. Stern also presented the work at the Prague premiere on 11 April 1896 and later in Leipzig, Chicago and New York.
A completely different world than we are used to with Dvořák is his Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70. It lacks any Slav-inspired melodies, rich branching of ideas, folkloric inspiration and indomitable optimism. Where did the gloomy, dark mood, defiance, doubts and pathos in this composition come from? According to some researchers, it was the result of Dvořák’s inner conflict between his patriotism and cosmopolitanism, between his ambitions for international success and the service to his country expected of him, which seemed to culminate in this symphony. There is also an obvious link to Johannes Brahms who discovered Dvořák and was his personal role model, whose symphonies became a strong source of inspiration and challenge for Dvořák. The composer wrote a note on the score that the main theme of the first movement occurred to him upon seeing the arrival of the ceremonial train in 1884, bringing several hundred Hungarians and Hungarian Czechs to Prague to attend a performance at the National Theatre. The whole event was more political than cultural in nature and was accompanied by massive demonstrations in towns and cities through which the train passed. However, it cannot be claimed with certainty that the symphony was influenced by the political situation of the time.
Dvořák began the Seventh Symphony upon a commission of the London Philharmonic Society, which invited him to write a new symphony and elected him as an honorary member. He took this as a great opportunity to compose something really exceptional, while coming to terms both with Brahms and Beethoven. Indeed, this symphony is a supreme example of symphonic writing which is intimate but also extremely dramatic, perfectly balanced from the point of view of its form and content, economical in terms of instrumentation, thematically coherent and rather compact, in short of a Beethoven-Brahms character.
The first movement in sonata form begins with an ominously sharp theme, which is eventually alternated by a contrasted, conciliatory idea. Then the shadow falls again, and the whole movement ends resignedly in the same spirit in which it began. The second movement introduces a certain sense of calm, which can be perceived as a prayer of the soul; it is followed by a rhythmically distinctive, dark scherzo with a dramatic melody. The fourth movement brings about a fundamental breakthrough, a heroic surge of will, which results in complete liberation.
The premiere of the Seventh Symphony took place on 22 April 1885 in St. James’s Hall in London with Dvořák himself conducting, and was given an enthusiastic reception (with rare exceptions) by lay audiences and critics alike. Its Czech premiere was held on 29 November of the same year in Prague’s Rudolfinum.
This website uses to provide services, personalize ads, and analyzing traffic cookies.