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Name of Work

Dvořák, Antonín (1841-1904)
Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81 (2008)

Allegro, ma non tanto
Dumka: Andante con moto
Scherzo (Furiant): Molto vivace
Finale: Allegro


Feb 10, 2008

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello
Shai Wosner, Piano

Feb 11, 2008

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello
Shai Wosner, Piano

DVOŘÁK-Piano Quintet in A, Op 81

Composed in 1887

Entering middle age in the 1880s, Antonín Dvořák also entered a period of his life that would be filled with a degree of international success he might not have envisioned during the years when he had supported himself and his family as a violist in the orchestra of the Prague National Theater, composing only on the side. His early symphonic and chamber works were performed in Prague, but wider attention came only in 1878, when the prestigious German publishing house of Simrock brought out his first set of Slavonic Dances.

Simrock took an interest in Dvořák thanks to Johannes Brahms, who had become acquainted with the younger composer's works and immediately championed his cause. A significant manifestation of Dvořák's growing fame was an invitation to visit England in 1884; he conducted there his Stabat Mater and Scherzo Capriccioso, and on return visits introduced British audiences to his cantata The Spectre's Bride and oratorio St. Ludmilla. His renown, assured in England, Bohemia and Germany, then took a transatlantic leap: in 1892 he became director of a new music conservatory in New York City and spent three years in the U.S., composing among other works the New World Symphony, the American String Quartet, and the Cello Concerto.

The increasingly public life, material success, widespread admiration -- all were gratifying, but Dvořák at heart was a private, unassuming individual devoted to his music, his family, and his church, a man who preferred the informal atmosphere of a local tavern to the glittering social milieu of an international music festival. He needed a retreat, and in 1884 found one: a country house in the southern Bohemian village of Vysoka. As his biographer Otakar Sourek has pointed out, in Vysoka he was inspired to work not only on large-scale pieces, but also on smaller, more personal compositions, including much chamber music: several quartets, piano pieces, the Violin Sonatina, Four Romantic Pieces, and the A Major Piano Quintet, Op 81.

The Quintet dates from 1887, and was completed after Dvořák had tried and failed to resurrect an earlier work for the same medium. Though this work survives and is sometimes performed, we can be happy for the composer's decision to embark on an entirely new work. The "Allegro ma non tanto" opening movement, in traditional sonata form, gives the expansive first theme to the cello, with help from the piano. Its progression is at first pensive, then more upbeat, then relaxed again. An echo of it will reappear in the Scherzo. The second theme, overtly lyrical, is introduced by the viola; it both complements and contrasts with its predecessor.

The viola was Dvořák's own instrument, and here he gives it a particularly lovely tune. We don't know when Brahms might have heard the quintet, but we can imagine his appreciation of the way in which Dvořák spotlighted these two mellow-toned stringed instruments, since he himself was so fond of middle and lower-range sonorities: viola, cello, clarinet, horn. The Quintet's development section combines and contrasts elements of both themes, and after both are recapitulated, their lyrical element is contrasted with a short vigorous Coda.

The Dumka is a ballad style characteristic of several varieties of Central and Eastern European folk music; it may have originated in the Ukraine. The idea is to create sharp contrasts between moods now elegiac, now celebratory. This Andante con Moto Dumka is in the key of F-Sharp Minor, the relative of A Major, and is laid out as a rondo: a main recurring “A” secion punctuated with episodes. The pattern here is A-B-C-A-B-A. The principal section is a soulful instrumental song introduced by viola and piano; the lighter B portion returns to the major mode (D Major) and enlivens the rhythmic interest with triplet patterns, while the fleet-footed C portion introduces a folk-dance element that we’ll hear more of later on.

The home key of A Major returns for the Molto Vivace Scherzo, based in part on the Bohemian folk dance called Furiant and in part upon waltz rhythms. The subtitle and the pace speak for themselves. The Poco Tranquillo trio section add syncopated rhythmic accents, which might be hard to dance to, but the impression of a lively village festival comes through nonetheless. In the return of the main section, the fast-moving principal themes are further condensed.

The sonata-form Allegro finale is reminiscent of yet another dance, the polka, and has both its main themes introduced on violin. The basic key is A Major, though F-Sharp Minor returns at the end of the second theme, which recalls the thematic material of the Dumka movement. Once again Dvořák introduces a mood contrast, in the shape of a shift in formal procedure. In the finale’s development section, the lively dancing texture is briefly interrupted with a fugal passage introduced by the second violin. The recapitulation and coda dance again as they combine all the instrumental voices for a smiling conclusion.
Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance date: February 10 & 11, 2008

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