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Antonín Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 "From the New World," analysis by Gerard Schwarz (part 1)

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Video transcript
(calm symphony music) Gerard: Dvorak wrote nine symphonies. The ninth certainly is the most popular and it was extremely popular from the time it was premiered. It is extraordinary when you think that Dvorak wrote some of his greatest music those few years that he was in New York and in Spillville, Iowa. The cello concerto, the American string quartet, and this great symphony, among other works. The symphony begins in a kind of melancholy way. The cellos play this very soft little theme. But it's an introduction, like all symphonies from Mozart and Haydn on, they had that slow introduction. It starts with a melancholy, beautiful soft gesture from the cellos accompanied by the other strings. And then all of the sudden a horn has a little, almost a fanfare, just a couple of notes, but it's startling. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: The introduction then goes to the woodwinds. The flute leading with oboes accompanying and bassoons eventually. The same thing happens. Very beautiful, soft, elegant. But this time the strings come in fortissimo, loud. And then the timpani come in. The woodwinds answer. It's a really extraordinary moment. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: Then you hear this little agitated section of the woodwinds. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: Two horns come in playing this theme which eventually will be theme one. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: That's repeated. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: A little aggressive and violent string playing, especially from the second violinist and violas. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: A little timpani solo and we're into the body of the movement. And sure enough, it begins with those two horns, the third and fourth horn, playing the first theme. What Dvorak does so interestingly is he doesn't take two melodic groups and then repeats it, develops it, and recapitulates it. No, he has many melodies. He has so many melodies just throughought the whole piece and he brings them back, as I'll show you. So, it begins with the horns, repeated, extended by the clarinet and bassoon and then the strings play that melody loud, fortissimo, then it backs away and starts a crescendo and sure enough the trombones play the melody. The extension now is by the strings rather than the clarinets and bassoons. It's all strong. It's remarkable. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: The second theme, which certainly sounds like a folk melody of some kind, is played by the flute and the oboe. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: Then the second violins take it over. And then the cellos and basses take it over. Then it's somewhat developed. So again, little different in symphonic form than we're used to because he takes that theme and rather than just moving on, he actually develops that theme at that moment. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: Next we have what we consider the third theme. It's introduced by the low flute. Dvorak also did some remarkable things in terms of instrumentation. The use of the flute in this register is unusual and it's poingant and very different sounding than it would be if an oboe played it or a clarinet, and I think a stroke of genius. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: Violins take over the same material. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: And then the cellos and basses come over with the same material, but now they're playing the same tune, fortissimo. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: We arrive now at the repeat. So, Dvorak asks us to repeat the whole beginning. Many conductors do not do this repeat. I'm a great believer in it obviously because Dvorak wrote it, but secondarily, there is so much material that he has given us, so many themes already, and the development of those themes in small ways, that we really need to hear it again as far as I'm concerned. And after the repeat we have this third theme. This time it's played as a horn fanfare. So, it's a completely different sound. The horn plays a little fanfare and it's echoed by a piccolo solo. Again, a remarkable stroke of orchestrational genius on Dvorak's part. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: The trumpet takes over. The oboes extend it. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: And then we get the trumpet play theme three. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: And then the trombones play theme one. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: Then we do the same thing with the horn playing theme three. And trombones play theme one. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: After this combination, again it's developed slightly, we get to what we consider the recapitulation where we go back to the first theme played by the third and fourth horn. And it is pretty clear. Then the oboe plays it. Then the flute does the extension. The violins play it quite loudly. And at the end of that, it gets softer and softer and now we have a solo for the second flute, bringing in, again, the second theme and just in a beautiful, soft way. And then that gets extended by all of the woodwinds. ("Ninth Symphony" by Antonin Dvorak) Gerard: The recapitulation continues in an obvious fashion. After this development section, we make a decrescendo, or diminuendo. And folk theme comes again played by the second flute. All of these themes get developed towards the end of the movement and it comes to an end. There's very little what we would call "filler", very little sequential material. It's all very direct with these themes, they way they're developed, the way they're combined. And the movement goes by and it feels like it takes a minute because it's so remarkable. Interestingly that he never brings back the opening material from that introduction, which is something rare in his case, as you'll see as we go through this piece.