DVOŘÁK Antonín, Slavonic Dances Nos.1&2

Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances were the pieces that first brought the composer worldwide fame. Thanks to the support of Johannes Brahms, Dvořák had been introduced to the publisher Simrock in Berlin, and having taken on the composer’s Moravian Duets, Simrock asked him for some dances. Inspired by Brahms’s Hungarian Dances Dvořák set to work on a set of his own based on the rhythms and forms of Czech folk dances – though unlike Brahms (who used Hungarian gypsy melodies), Dvořák invented his own tunes. Whether in their original version for piano four hands, or in the composer’s dazzling orchestrations, or in numerous arrangements (including an entertaining if clattery one for two pianos, eight hands), they soon became immensely popular – but they are also pieces that are ingenious, substantial and highly original. Dvořák took traditional dance forms into the concert hall with genuine affection and obvious relish, ranging from the slow-fast style of the Dumka, to the wildness of the Furiant. The first set of eight dances appeared in 1878, and a second set was composed in 1886. They stand as a wonderful celebration of Slavonic folk styles seen through the eyes of a great Czech composer, and they were also important for Dvořák’s future creative work: in many of his later concert pieces he adapts the same dance types that he had explored in the Slavonic Dances – from the Furiant-type scherzos of the Sixth Symphony and Piano Quintet, to the Dumka used in several pieces, notably the amazingly original Dumky Trio which comprises six of them in a row. As for the Slavonic Dances, they quickly became a major international success, and in 1893 Dvořák himself conducted three of them at the Chicago World’s Fair.

 

Nigel Simeone © 2011

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