Masterworks 2
Antonin Dvořák 1841-1904
Antonin Dvořák
Antonin Dvořák
Carnival Overture, Op. 92

It took Antonín Dvořák a long time to establish his name outside his native Bohemia. But by 1891 he had achieved recognition and fame throughout Europe. He had premiered his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies to great success and his chamber music was in great demand. His reputation had spread across the ocean, eliciting an invitation from Mrs. Jeanette B. Thurber, a dedicated and idealistic proponent of an American national musical style, to head the first American music conservatory, the National Conservatory of Music in New York.

Just before he embarked on his “New World” adventure, Dvořák composed three overtures, originally titled Nature, Life and Love, later renaming them In Nature’s Realm, Carnival and Othello. The three are united by a recurring musical theme, although in Carnival it appears only fleetingly in the slow middle section. These works were not composed as overtures to plays or operas, but were more in the nature of mood-setting concert openers.

According to one scholar Dvořák wanted to illustrate with the three overtures different aspects of nature and her power for good and evil. Aged fifty at the time and in middle age, he looked to nature for tranquility, was somewhat disillusioned with love, but retained an unflagging zest for life.

The composer’s optimistic side comes through in the Carnival Overture with the explosive energy of the opening bars. Example 1 The overture follows the traditional symphonic sonata-allegro form, but as is often the case in Dvořák’s most upbeat music, it bears a tinge of melancholy in its second theme Example 2 and in the addition of a separate Andante section – a poetic English horn solo – that foreshadow the emotional outpourings of the slow movement of the Ninth Symphony, Op. 94 and the Cello Concerto, Op. 105, composed in America shortly afterwards. Example 3After this poignant digression, Dvořák snaps back into the original mood of the piece. Example 4
Dinuk Wijeratne b. 1978
Dinuk Wijeratne
b. 1978
Dinuk Wijeratne
Concerto for Tabla and Orchestra

The tabla is a pair of small drums of different sizes and shapes played with the fingers and palms, creating complex rhythms and a surprisingly wide range of sonorities. The tabla is most familiar to Western audiences as an essential feature of the Indian raga.

Sri Lanka born composer, pianist, conductor and tabla virtuoso Dinuk Wijeratne grew up in Dubai, studied music in the UK, USA and Canada, and now is based in Canada. He has composed for almost all the many artists and ensembles he has worked with, including Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and tabla legend Zakir Hussain.

Wijeratne writes about the Tabla Concerto, composed in 2011:
“While the origins of the Tabla are somewhat obscure, it is evident that this ‘king’ of Indian percussion instruments has achieved global popularity for the richness of its timbre, and for the virtuosity of a rhythmically complex repertoire that cannot be separated from the instrument itself. In writing a large-scale work for Tabla and Symphony Orchestra, it is my hope to allow each entity to preserve its own aesthetic. Perhaps, at the same time, the stage will be set for some new discoveries.

“While steeped in tradition, the Tabla lends itself heartily to innovation, and has shown its cultural versatility as an increasingly sought-after instrument in contemporary Western contexts such as Pop, Film Music, and World Music Fusion. This notion led me to conceive of an opening movement that would do the not-so-obvious by placing the Tabla first in a decidedly non-Indian context. Here, initiated by a quasi-Baroque canon in four parts, the music quickly turns into an evocation of one my favourite genres of electronic music: ‘Drum-&-Bass’, characterised by rapid ‘breakbeat’ rhythms in the percussion. Of course, there are some North-Indian Classical musical elements present. The whole makes for a rather bizarre stew that reflects globalisation, for better or worse!

“A brief second movement becomes a short respite from the energy of the outer movements, and offers a perspective of the Tabla as accompanist in the lyrical world of Indian folk-song. Set in ‘dheepchandhi’, a rhythmic cycle of 14 beats, the gently lilting gait of the Tabla rhythm supports various melodic fragments that come together to form an ephemeral love-song.

“Typically, a Tabla player concluding a solo recital would do so by presenting a sequence of short, fixed (non-improvised) compositions from his/her repertoire. Each mini-composition, multi-faceted as a little gem, would often be presented first in the form of a vocal recitation. The traditional accompaniment would consist of a drone as well as a looping melody outlining the time cycle – a ‘nagma’ – against which the soloist would weave rhythmically intricate patterns of tension and release. I wanted to offer my own take on such a recital finale, with the caveat that the orchestra is no bystander. In this movement, it is spurred on by the soloist to share in some of the rhythmic complexity. The whole movement is set in ‘teentaal’, or 16-beat cycle, and in another departure from the traditional norm, my nagma kaleidoscopically changes colour from start to finish. I am indebted to Ed Hanley for helping me choose several ‘gems’ from the Tabla repertoire, although we have certainly had our own fun in tweaking a few, not to mention composing a couple from scratch.”

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky 1840-1893
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64

Throughout his creative career, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's inspiration went through extreme cycles, tied to his frequent bouts of deep depression and self-doubt. In mid-May 1888 he wrote to his brother Modest that he was convinced that he had written himself out and that he now felt neither the impulse nor the inclination to compose. By the end of the month, however, he set about "...getting a symphony out of my dulled brain, with difficulty." Inspiration must have started to flow, for by the end of August, the massive Fifth Symphony was finished.

As was the case with most of Tchaikovsky's compositions, the premiere of the Symphony – in St. Petersburg, with the composer conducting – earned mixed reactions. The audience liked it, critics panned it and fellow-composers were envious. Modest believed that the problem with the critics lay with his brother's lack of confidence as a conductor. Tchaikovsky himself, however, was never at ease with the Symphony, and wrote to his benefactress, Nadeja von Meck: "Having played my symphony twice in St. Petersburg and once in Prague, I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure. There is something repellent in it, some exaggerated color, some insincerity of construction, which the public instinctively recognizes. It was clear to me that the applause and ovations were not for this but for other works of mine, and that the Symphony itself will never please the public." For the rest of his life he felt ambivalent about its merits, although after a concert in Germany, where the musicians were enthusiastic, he felt more positive.

The mood of the entire Symphony is set by the introduction, a somber motto in the clarinets that reappears throughout the work and hints at some hidden extra-musical agenda, Example 1 a quote from a trio in Mihail Glinka's opera, A Life for the Tsar, on the words "Turn not into sorrow," Perhaps the motto reflects the melancholy and self-doubt Tchaikovsky experienced when he started composing the Symphony; certainly its mood is maintained throughout most of the work, where it casts a pall over whatever it touches. Some biographers have identified it with the Fate motive that appears throughout the Fourth Symphony, which is unrelentingly pessimistic. In the Fifth, the reincarnation of the motto from e minor to E major at the end of the Finale suggests the composer's reversal to a more positive frame of mind. The first theme is a resolute march, almost a grim procession through adversity. Example 2 A second beautifully orchestrated theme reveals how many ways there are to represent a sigh in music. Example 3 The second movement, marked Andante cantabile, contains one of the repertory's great horn solos, Example 4 followed by a more animated theme for solo oboe. Example 5 The middle section of this ABA form features the clarinet in yet another poignant theme, Example 6 broken up by the tragic motto Example 7 before a return to an embellished version of the opening themes.

The third movement, a waltz based on a street melody the composer had heard in Florence ten years before, also has an undertone of sadness, and towards the end the somber motto is again heard, Example 8 & Example 9 the mood continuing into the Finale.

The last movement presents the motto as the focal point of a final struggle between darkness and light, symbolized by the vacillation between its original E minor and E major. Example 10 The stately introduction mirrors the opening of the piece, although in an ambiguous mood and mode. Example 11 With the Allegro, the key returns decidedly to the minor, but the tempo picks up into a spirited trepak, a Russian folkdance. Finally, following a grand pause, the key switches definitively to E major – Example 12 with great pomp and fanfare – for a majestic coda based on the motto and a final trumpet blast of a version in E major of the first movement march. Example 13

Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2017