Gary Kelley Dvorak
Debut performance on the Cedar River in Waterloo

Riverloop Debut: Dvorák in Iowa

Saturday, September 7 // 7:30PM

Antonín Dvořák New World Symphony, inspired in part by his 1893 stay in northeast Iowa, is the focus of our first-ever concert at the stunning Riverloop Amphitheater on the Cedar River in downtown Waterloo. One of Dvořák’s favorite activities during his midwest stay in the summer of 1893 was sipping a cold pilsner with a view of a beautiful Iowa river. Now you can do the same while enjoying the sounds of the piece inspired by his visit, the New World Symphony. The work is the focus of our first-ever concert at the stunning Riverloop Amphitheatre on the Cedar River in downtown Waterloo.

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Program notes

Dvořák - Slavonic Dances Op. 46, no. 8 and Op. 72, no. 7

In 1877, Dvořák’s music was just being heard beyond his native Bohemia. Important music critic Eduard Hanslick informed him that several of his works had come to the attention of Johannes Brahms, who made arrangements for Dvořák’s works to be offered to the publishing firm headed by Fritz Simrock. Dvořák’s intense nationalism (owing in no small part by his earlier association with Smetana) would be brought to fruition through his composition of two sets of Slavonic Dances, much as Brahms had done with his own “Hungarian” Dances.

Both sets of dances were originally composed for piano four hands, as was much of the music of the day. Because music making in the home was so important (up until the dawn of radio and recorded music) one could even purchase entire symphonies and operas boiled down for piano. The sales of subsequent orchestrations of these works was simply icing on the cake, but Simrock quickly understood the value of these works and pressed the composer into fashioning versions for orchestra.

While Brahms would base his own works on existing gypsy melodies, all of Dvořák’s tunes were original but were cast in a popular Slavic dance form. The last of the Op. 46 dances (composed in 1878) is a furiant cast in g-minor. It is a spirited Bohemian dance, with constantly shifting meters - sometimes in three, other times in two. The wildly shifting accents keep the players (as well as the audience) on their toes.

The enormous success of this first set of works prompted Simrock to request another, which Dvořák supplied (in both piano and orchestral guises) in 1886. The seventh in the latter collection is a kolo in C-major. This dance, often found at wedding celebrations, is more international in scope and variants on the kolo can be found throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. While each version is different, what they share is an extremely rapid pace and tricky footwork.

- Brian Hughes


Dvořák - New World Symphony

Dvořák is best known to Iowans as the great composer who spent the summer of 1893 living in the small Czech community of Spillville in northeast Iowa. One can still visit not only the church where he played organ for Sunday mass, but also the actual building in which he lived (it now houses a magnificent collection of Bily clocks.)

The Czech master was originally invited to America by Mrs. Jeannette Thurber to assume directorship of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. Dvořák’s sojourn in this country has greatly enamored him among Americans, many of whom have commented on the numerous influences which American folk song, spirituals and Native American music played in his compositions of this period. During his less than three-year stay, Dvořák wrote a number of his most significant later works, including the Ninth Symphony and the Cello Concerto.

Because of its ties to our country, the Ninth Symphony (“From the New World”) has remained a favorite on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Dvořák himself would write of the work, “The influence of America can be felt by anyone who has a nose.” At the same time, a thorough study of his entire compositional output - including the “New World” Symphony - betrays him as a distinctly Czech composer who infused his many works with the vibrant folk influences of his native land.

The first movement opens with a dark adagio, stated by the strings, followed in tandem by the winds. An ominous transition leads to the main theme, announced by the horns. This material appears subsequently in many different guises, hinting at joy, but eventually settling into a more doleful character. The flutes lead us to the serene second theme, reminiscent of a folk dance. Nationalist elements are such a natural part of Dvořák’s compositional pallet that the themes flow from him in an almost endless succession of folklike tunes. The expected development follows although it is not extremely lengthy. Rather the opening horn call returns and the requisite chain of melodies follow, closing out the movement with a tumultuous thunderclap.

The Largo is among Dvořák’s most well-known and loved melodies,  beautiful song for English horn and strings that was later adapted into the tune “Goin’ Home”. The elegiac melody certainly captures the serenity of the American landscape of our early history, a far cry from the hustle and bustle Dvořák must have faced in New York City. In this movement, as in so many others, Dvořák infuses his impressions of the nature around him, particularly in the bars preceding the inclusion of the first movement music, which comes crashing forth before settling back into the haunting opening melody.

Dvořák’s Scherzo bares a distinct resemblance to the similar movement in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (a coincidence?). In the finale, Dvořák sums up all of the previous materials in a tremendous orchestral flourish. The brass blaze forth with a new, part triumphant, part angry theme, which is taken up by the full orchestra. Dvořák follows with a delightful orchestral dance before the clarinet sings forth a lyrical second theme. Much like the first movement, a succession of melodies follows, before Dvořák returns to several of his earlier tunes, embellishing his symphonic package in a delightfully decorative wrapping.

- Brian Hughes