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19th century Czech nationalism lies behind the works of Antonin Dvorak
By Bradley Winterton
Thursday,  Jun 14, 2018,15:42 (GMT+7)

19th century Czech nationalism lies behind the works of Antonin Dvorak

By Bradley Winterton

Antonin Dvorak

For me, and I suspect for quite a few other classical music enthusiasts as well, Antonin Dvorak comes second only to Mozart when it comes to opting for one’s favorite composer.

Here is a late 19th century musician who rose to fame on the emergence of nationalism in music. What this means is this.

Previously, in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, classical music was largely international, with Italian the accepted language for almost all music, but German also following close behind in the Germanic lands, especially in Protestant church music, and French naturally important in France (Europe’s dominant country). The peoples to the east of Europe didn’t really get a look in.

But then nationalism began to arise. Russians and Czechs, in particular, began to develop their own musical styles, and to use their own local languages in such art-forms as opera.

England, incidentally, was, as in so many things, a special case or considered itself to be so. English had been used in operas there, by composers such as Purcell and Handel (though Handel was in fact a German-speaker), from the early 18th century, though they were often later repeated in Italian versions. But the country considered itself far too important to be part of any “nationalist” movement.

Antonin Dvorak became essentially the leader of the Czech nationalist musical movement. He was a great lover of the Bohemian countryside, which constitutes the west of the modern Czech Republic, the area round Prague. His music was felt to reflect the folk traditions of the area, and his works were almost always given their premiers in his home country, rather than in Vienna, Europe’s undisputed musical capital (and not that far away from Prague).

All this musical activity was also related to the political desire for an independent Czech state. It was no accident that another great Czech composer, Bedrich Smetana, composed an orchestral work called My Homeland (‘Ma vlast’). In a sense, all the works of these nationalists were about “my country”.

It’s paradoxical, therefore, that Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, due to be performed in the Opera House by the HCMC orchestra and the cello soloist Ngo Hoang Quan on June 19, was actually written in the United States. Not only that – it was specifically inspired by the North American countryside.

This concerto will be followed in the concert by Dvorak’s Symphony No.8. About this there is no ambiguity, however. It is specifically and unashamedly inspired by the Czech countryside, so much so that it’s believed to contain many musical references to Bohemian folk melodies.

In this, it represents a cri de coeur, a cry from the heart. It is a work that shows where Dvorak’s sympathies truly resided.

Today all classical music has been lumped into one vast mass, and for many people the origins of the various musical works have been lost. Czech nationalism is, however, one route into the works of one of my favorite composers, Antonin Dvorak.

A guest from Hanoi will conduct this special concert, Honna Tetsuji, currently the Music Advisor and Conductor of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra.

It begins at 8 p.m., and tickets are priced at VND650,000, VND500,000 and VND80,000 (students only).

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