Dvořák New World
October 7th, 2017 | 8:00 pm | Keefe Center for the Arts (Parking and Directions)
Jonathan McPhee, conductor
BEETHOVEN Coriolan Overture
BEACH Symphony in E Minor, “Gaelic”
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”
Dvořák’s monumental Ninth Symphony, titled “From the New World”, paints images of rural American landscapes, trains cutting through the wild west, and towering mountains. Amy Beach was a champion of American and female composers, embodying the spirit of Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony in her own music from her experience growing up in Henniker. Yes, Beach grew up in Henniker, New Hampshire. Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony looks back to the cultures that immigrants brought to the New World.
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In honor of Beach's 150th birthday anniversary, University of New Hampshire is hosting a series of events and exhibits about her life and work. Click below to learn more:
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Listen to the Works
Click on the tracks below to listen to the music on this program.
Learn more about New Hampshire native Amy Beach.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Beethoven produced a small but impressive collection of overtures. For his opera, Fidelio, he wrote 4 overtures. Other overtures include Egmont and King Stephen (both of which have additional incidental music), as well as Name Day, Consecration of the House, and Coriolan (1807).
Although Shakespeare wrote a play about Coriolanus, Beethoven’s overture was intended for a tragedy of the same name written by Heinrich Joseph von Collin (1804). Coriolanus was a troubled Roman leader much under the influence of his willful mother. Having made many enemies owing to his bitterness and ambivalence over the role of the plebeians in his election as consul, Coriolanus was eventually banished, and in retribution joined the enemy Volscian army about to invade Rome. In Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus, brokers a peace agreement but is killed by the Volscian leader for his betrayal. In von Collin’s play Coriolanus commits suicide, driven by his inner conflict between invading Rome for the Volscians and giving in to the pleas of his wife and mother to spare Rome.
The music in the Overture follows the arc of the drama. The main theme in C minor reflects the warrior nature of Coriolanus as he prepares to invade Rome. A contrasting, gentler theme in E-flat major (harmonically related to C minor) is associated with pleas by his wife and mother for peace. The Overture concludes with the death of the conflicted would-be hero.
Coriolan was Beethoven’s first non-Fidelio overture. It was premiered at the residence of Prince Lobkowitz, one of Beethoven’s patrons, along with the Symphony #4 and Piano Concerto #4.
Symphony in E Minor, "Gaelic"
Amy Beach (1867-1944)
Amy Cheney was born in West Henniker, New Hampshire and from an early age, demonstrated exceptional musical talent. Despite societal limitations on a woman’s professional career in music, Cheney persevered and had her debut as a pianist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the age of 17. She was largely self-taught, learning composition through the private study of great masters. She married a Boston physician 25 years her senior when she was 18, and for the next quarter century, her position in society dictated that Mrs. Beach should perform publicly very infrequently, typically once a year at a charity event. She focused on composition and began work on her Gaelic Symphony within a month of the premier of Dvorak’s “From the New World” Symphony. She relied heavily on preexisting Irish folk melodies and explicitly incorporated ideas based on four traditional tunes as themes. Most of the themes in her symphony were her own and, in a fashion similar to Dvořák, she sought to capture in this work the spirit of the folk sources rather than direct quotes from songs. This symphony was warmly received by critics and reaffirmed her role as a composer. It is often credited as the first symphony of importance by a composer born in America. Following her husband’s death, she resumed her career as a pianist and was highly successful in both Europe and America.
Symphony No. 9, "From the New World"
Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904)
Dvořák was widely considered to be second only to Brahms as a composer when he came to America in 1893 to direct the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He was brought there with the express goal that he would help found an American school of composition. This symphony premiered as a part of the celebrations of 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America and was immediately declared to be a masterwork by contemporary critics. Dvořák was fascinated by American Indian music, although his sources were limited and included themes he was introduced to through Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He was exposed to concert arrangements of African American spirituals and the works of Steven Foster but found special inspiration in Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha”. Dvořák denied that he had borrowed directly from preexisting sources but that he strove to reproduce their spirit. Although much has been made of the similarity of the second theme in the first movement to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, it is in the second movement that the closest resemblance to another song is heard—Dvořák’s soulful English horn theme which is similar to the song “Massa Dear” by Arthur Johnson, a commercial songwriter. However, Arthur Johnson’s song was composed 30 years after the premier of the New World Symphony. Dvořák cited Longfellow’s description of American Indian dance as the inspiration for the third movement. Interestingly, some commentators have pointed out a reference to the old English Song “Three Blind Mice” in the fourth movement.
This work succeeds in evoking an American spirit and masterfully incorporating it into a symphonic structure that evokes Dvořák’s Czech heritage as well as works by Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. The second movement of this symphony begins with an exceptionally beautiful theme played by the English horn. The musicologist David Hurwitz writes that attempting to describe it is “like trying to analyze the taste of a ripe peach. It exists in some sort of primal realm of musical being and is best enjoyed accordingly, in all of its pristine simplicity of utterance.” I feel that these words apply to the entirety of this symphony.
Programs are subject to change. Tickets are nonrefundable. Group rates are available. Children age 5+ are welcome. Youth aged 5-15 are admitted free with an adult paying regular price, but all children must have a ticketed seat. Free youth tickets must be reserved by calling our box office Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Exchanges can be made up to 24 hours before the originally scheduled concert date for a fee of $5. Handling fees are waived for subscribers. Online ticket sales are available until 4 p.m. on the day of the concert. The box office at the concert venue opens two hours before the concert.