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Dramatic works for Classics 3

Symphony will perform Dvorak, Brahms, Barber

Eckart Preu will direct this weekend’s concerts.
Eckart Preu will direct this weekend’s concerts.
Donivan Johnson Correspondent

Only two short weeks since overwhelming us with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the Spokane Symphony Orchestra and music director Eckart Preu will perform three works in the third concert of the Classics Series.

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) composed his First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12 shortly after his String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 11. He arranged the adagio from the quartet for string orchestra and sent both scores to Arturo Toscanini for possible performance by the NBC Radio Orchestra. Toscanini, who was never known for his tactfulness, returned the scores without comment. This gesture upset Barber greatly. It turned out Toscanini planned on performing both works; he only kept the scores long enough to memorize them.

The Essay is modeled after the literary genre that is a brief, serious work on a single subject.

While there may be one main theme in this music, it undergoes a wide variety of changes in instrumentation and tempo.

If the listener is familiar with Barber’s better known work Adagio for Strings, then there are moments of melody, harmony and mood found in the Essay that will clearly resonate.

As a formally trained composer who idolized Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) composed two serenades. His Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16 was completed in 1859 when Brahms was 26. Its sections are similar in structure to the popular 18th century serenades such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s famous Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments. Brahms’ work is in five movements: Allegro moderato, Scherzo, Adagio, Quasi menuetto and Rondo.

Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70 by Bohemian master Antonin Dvorák was commissioned by The Royal Philharmonic Society (London) for a concert in 1885. The composer gave much thought to this great honor and composition of his symphony.

He wrote to a friend that “I am occupied with my new symphony (for London) and wherever I go I think of nothing but my work, which must be such as to make a stir in the world, and may God grant that it will.” He spent much more time on this symphony then he did on his previous one.

The London premiere, conducted by the composer, was a great success; the audience even applauded after every movement. But this work is considered one of Dvorák’s most somber.

It took audiences a few years to come to terms with this music by a composer who was known previously for his joy and optimism.

Symphony No. 7 is cast in the four traditional symphonic movements. The first, Allegro maestoso, is especially dark in character, even with breaks in the mood. Movement two, Poco adagio, is an elegy with a sudden explosion of musical passion in the middle section.

The composer remarked that this particular movement was “from the sad years.”

The Scherzo, movement three, is a “furiant” – a traditionally fast Bohemian dance in triple meter. It is in the finale – Allegro – that Dvorák’s consummate workmanship and true genius create a stunning, perfect conclusion to this nearly 40-minute monument of symphonic music.

The composer wrote to a friend “What is in my mind is Love, God, and my Fatherland.”

Donivan Johnson, who lives in Metaline Falls, is a composer, lecturer and K-12 music instructor for the Selkirk School District.
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