Über die Grenze 7
ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK • Drobnosti (Miniatures) for two violins and viola, Op. 75a
LEOŠ JANÁČEK • Pohádka (Fairy Tale) for Cello and Piano
BEDŘICH SMETANA • Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15
ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK • Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81
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In many countries, most notably in France, literature was always considered the leading cultural medium. The national-political emancipation efforts of the Czech people in the late 19thcentury, however, were linked strongly to a musical culture as it began to develop an increasingly independent profile, especially in the operas of Bedřich Smetana. Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904), Smetana’s junior by 17 years and no less rooted in the folk music of his Bohemian homeland, already saw his role as less of a founding figure; thus, his œuvre attained more of a universal outlook again. Dvořák’s contributions to opera were almost as numerous as Smetana’s, although their topics were far more haphazard and derived from international sources. As a symphonic composer, Dvořák followed Central European traditions – Czech wine in German barrels, so to speak.
The same might be said of Dvořák’s incredibly rich chamber music output (Smetana, by comparison, created only a few works in this genre, but those he did are important and confessional), which was observed with particular benevolent interest by Brahms, who also introduced Dvořák to German publishers. One of the preferred domains of Dvořák’s musicality was the string quartet, to which he contributed many felicitous works. Like his symphonies, these quartets demonstrate a creative power and a rich imagination regarding sound, free of any “father complexes” (quite unlike Brahms, who struggled violently with the models set by Beethoven in his string quartets). Although Dvořák was not disinclined to experiment in his chamber music, occasionally blurring the boundaries with “programme music” (one of the mistakes of his contemporaries was their attempt to stylize him as the “Brahmsian” antipode of Smetana, whom they wanted to see as a “Neo-German” follower of Liszt), his musical idiom, while not devoid of shadows and underlying melancholia, was most often characterised by vitality and a “joy of playing” – the enjoyment of sound, of dance-like rhythms, of charming melodic turns.
As a composer, Dvořák felt safer on chamber music terrain than he did in opera – to him, a conversation among friends had more appeal than broadcasting to a wide public. Having been a practicing musician during his formative years – he played viola at Prague’s Interim Theatre in several world premieres of Smetana operas, conducted by the composer – string music was an intimate medium of personal communication to him. This trend was to be continued in Czech chamber music of subsequent generations – in the distinctly Bohemian sound of the cosmopolitan Josef Suk, and even more so in the case of Bohuslav Martinů, whose fertile imagination and apparent ease of production exceeded even Dvořák’s, but who was hard hit by the loss of his homeland, one of the fundamental evils of the 20th century. Finally, Leoš Janáček’s chamber music bears the mark of the extraordinary, breaking the boundaries of any geographical hold – like all the works of this late bloomer.
Devoting extensive attention to Czech musical works is hardly an exotic move for the Salzburg Festival – the pan-European ideas of its founding fathers after World War I expressly reflected and included the “low half-tones” (Hofmannsthal) of Slavic expressivity – as manifested by Dvořák and similar musical sensibilities.
Translated by Alexa Nieschlag