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Antonín Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 "From the New World," analysis by Gerard Schwarz (part 2)

Video transcript
Gerard: Now we get to the second movement. What's interesting about the second movement one of the many things interesting is that it's marked "largo." And very often it would be played as the largo from the New World Symphony because it's such a famous melody and everyone knows this melody. It began as an andante. An andante is a faster tempo, and so he envisioned this as a fast as he was writing it. And then, he thought "well maybe that's not correct, "maybe it should be a little slower," so he wrote larghetto. It was premiered by the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall 1893 and Anton Seidl, a very great conductor, did it quite slowly. And so, as a result, Dvořák changed it yet again and made it a largo. So what started out as an andante, then the larghetto then the largo. Interesting to see how a great artist, a great conductor like Seidl, could influence a great composer like Dvořák. It begins with a very famous brass chorale. Horns, trumpet, trombone and tuba. At the end of these few bars it makes a decrescendo and the strings take over playing the exact same chord. And then, the most famous English horn solo of all time. It is one of the most beautiful solos and many people believe that it's influenced by Negro spirituals. One could make the argument that it's also influenced by Czech folk music. Whatever the influence is, it is gorgeous. (slow brass classical music) (timpani pounding) (slow brass classical music) (slow violin music) (English horn solo) At the end of this statement of the beautiful melody of the English horn, that opening corral is repeated. This time played by the woodwinds and the horns. Again, he uses that same imaginative orchestrational idea. (slow, high flute music) (flute and horn music) The woodwinds finish their chord, the brass come in playing the same chord fortissimo, then make a decrescendo and the strings remain singing that same exact chord very softly, and then they play. (slow brass chord) (moves into slow violin music) The English horn comes back and plays it again. We have a couple of muted horns that bring us to theme two. It's marked a little bit faster. Of course we do that, played by the flute and the oboe. (slow to mid-tempo flute and oboe music) The second theme is then extended by a beautiful clarinet duet. (slow clarinet music) The clarinets play their gorgeous duet. The violins come in playing the same melody and we move to yet another melody. This one, played by the violins and the clarinets, is almost funereal. This is very heartfelt, gorgeous music played very poignantly and very softly, primarily by the strings.(soft string instruments) Then this leads to yet another theme. As I keep repeating, Dvořák is just full of ideas. And now we have the third theme. This one is a completely different character. It starts with the oboe, then the clarinet, then the flute, then the violins, then the cellos and the basses. (lively woodwind instruments) So here you have this kind of light that enters this work and then what happens? The trombones come in in an ominous way playing the first theme from the first movement, the horn theme, slower. The trumpets play a fanfare version of the English horn solo that we had just heard and the strings play the third theme from the first movement. It's hard to keep track of which numbered theme it is, but if you just listen to the trombones playing one theme, the trumpets playing another and the violins playing another and see how it all fits together. An absolutely brilliant work. (loud orchestral music) This is a very short transition. Bringing us back to the beautiful English horn solo. (slow English horn solo) The English horn solo then is extended by 10 solo string players, four violins, two violas, two cellos and two basses. What I'd like you to notice is the silences. He plays a little bit of this beautiful theme very softly and poignantly, and then there's a stop. And then he does it again and there's another stop. And then he reduces it to just three players, a solo violin, a solo viola, and a solo cello. Then, the full string section comes in and it brings us back to the chorale that opened the movement. It's darker sounding and I'll tell you exactly why even though you wouldn't even notice. "Why does it sound darker?" "Why does it sound more reserved, more introspective?" It's because in orchestrational, he eliminates the trumpets. So you hear the trumpets at the very beginning. Here, there are no trumpets so that kind of more brighter sound is missing. It ends very beautifully, with a very unusual three-part chord played by the double basses. It's hard to imagine if anyone before this time had ever written something where a trio of double basses or three voices of double basses, would end a symphonic movement. Quite remarkable. (slow, quiet string instruments) (slow woodwind and string instruments) (sombre trombone and horn music) (sombre string instruments) (slow double bass music)