Skip to content
Siete qui: Home Festival Festival 2010 Shostakovich and Dvořák
Shostakovich and Dvořák PDF Print E-mail
It was started and finished in spring 1948 (then called op. 77), and frozen until 1955 (date of its first performance): it was then published as op. 99. The seven years it took for the début of Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich's first Violin Concert remind us that this work of elegant symmetry and communicative features was judged to be an example of musical “degeneration” and “subjectivism”, according to ideological-Stalinian principles which were embodied in the person of Andrei Zhdanov. Actually the Violin Concert is a prudent and nearly academic score. The great orchestra situated on stage (threesomes of all wooden instruments; there are neither trumpets nor trombones, but there is the tuba; two harps and celesta which are only played for a couple of impressionist brush strokes in the first part, and some percussion) does not actually cause any cluttering, and the symphonic distribution of the musical material is a throwback to a traditional expressive intention. The succession of tempos – Nocturne, Scherzo, Passacaglia and Burlesque – which could be read as a neo-classical statement or as a play of structural masking, recalls the usual architecture of the Symphonies: during the first musical episodes it seems like reading a Symphony with solo violin. If we exclude the electrifying territory of the cadences and of the concluding Burlesque, the Concerto puts in the forefront a compositional plan where references to romantic solo-orchestra tradition are extraneous to it. The solo line lives mimetically the relationship with the orchestra; also in those passages where the slightly sour song-likeness cuts itself out a virtuoso space which is hardly striking but sharp-cut as in the enchanting Nocturne with which the works opens. It is an Adagio which is not dissimilar from those enchanting ones of the Symphonies, but in which Shostakovich allows the evasion of a less torn lyricism: the construction is based on the elaboration of two thematic cues but hits at the ecstatic homogeneity of the movement which buds rhapsodically by a single silent idea, materialised in the first dozen bars from heavy strings and solo violin. The Scherzo reveals a relationship with the thematic material of the Tenth Symphony: we acknowledge the recitation of the third tempo and an icastic musical idea circulates during the whole Scherzo based on four notes D S C H (according to the German alphabetical order) “culled” from the first letters of D.SCHostakowitsch, the composer’s name transliterated into German. The same motto is found in the Eighth Quartet and in other works of the Fifties: a sarcastic and autoironic reinterpretation of the Stalinian personality cult. The energy which was made to explode in the Scherzo calms down in the solemn gait of the Passacaglia, which livens up with each new thematic exposure, up to the time it bristles in the extraordinary (and very long) concluding cadence of the violin which hooks up the tempo of the trampling and elfish Burlesque. It is an Allegro con brio of reckless brilliance which incites the soloist’s virtuoso inclinations and brings about a sensation of structural finality through the recitation of the theme of the Passacaglia, transfigured by the breakneck instrumental acceleration. After being signed up in 1892 by arts patron Jeanette M. Thurber to direct the newly founded National Conservatory of New York, which was a school which did not give certificates but taught composition, above all to coloured musicians, hoping to create an American musical tradition, Antonin Dvořák worked at the Big Apple for three years. Seven scores were connected to his stay in America: two related to the surroundings in which they were born, declaring them in their title. The first was his more famous composition, Symphony no. 9 (for many years listed as the Fifth: it was only in 1963 that the four youthful Symphonies entered the scene); the second was the Quartet in F major op. 96, or the “American” quartet.
“From the New World” Symphony
, in more detail “Impressions and greetings from the New World”. The written words were added by hand at the last minute when sending the score to the person responsible for its first orchestration: the title reflects the idealistic-nationalistic climate of the anomalous school. The founder had expressed to the musician her wish/plan of a “real American opera”, inspired by the famous Song of Hiawatha (1855) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Dvořák was aware of the poem in a Czech translation but he proposed an orchestral composition: thus, the II and III movements were inspired by Minnehaha’s funeral (Hiawatha’s spouse) and the dance of Pau-Puh-Keewiz. Along with the literary influence Dvořák added his knowledge of black spirituals, the folksongs of Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), original North American ethno-musical documents and Red Indian songs, while occupying himself of local patriotic sounds without any philological hesitation: «I have not used just one melody from them; I have written the themes relaying in them the qualities of Indian music and using them as symphonic subjects».

Featuring in the Symphony are the extroverted tone and the instrumental parts driven by the blare of brass or by orchestral doublings, as well as the repeated lyrical refolds, the melancholic shading of the melodies, the writing which isolates the timbral identities and creates zones of extraordinary transparency. An example is the Largo (encored to the First) which after the departing chorale sounded by brass, delivers itself to the arcane melopoeia of the English horn and to the insinuating and breathed embroidery of oboe and flute: inspired by the “Funeral in the forest” and cut out as a lullaby, it calls up emotional signs and spaces without either affective or geographical latitudes. Though still pertaining to the Romantic-Brahmsian tradition, the Symphony keeps its distance, affirming itself in a very personal and unmistakable manner. Having finished it in a few weeks, the score was orchestrated between the 9th February and the 24th May 1893. On the same day, a few hours after having finished it – as written by himself – a telegram from Southampton informed Dvořák that his children were travelling across the ocean to meet him. They were present at the triumph of the first performance of the new (and last) Symphony written by their father: it was then the 16th December at the Carnegie Hall, under the baton of Anton Seidl, on behalf of the New York Philharmonic Society.

Angelo Foletto