1865: Dvorak: Symphony No. 2 in Bb Major

TUESDAY, August 25, 2020 – 9:37 AM

(The difference between Dvorak’s 1st and 2nd symphonies is huge. They appeared very close together, with Dvorak starting the 2nd only four months after the 1st.)

Symphony No. 2 in Bb Major, age 24

Instrumentation:

  • 1 piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones
  • timpani
  • strings

The rest of the story…

This is not the first time I’ve heard a lot of Wagner in Dvorak’s music, and now I know why. He was a huge fan of Wagner’s music. Dvorak was born in 1841, and Wagner was born in 1813.

Possible Wagner influences…

Wagner’s Flying Dutchman appeared in 1842, Tannhäuser in 1845,  then  Lohengrin in 1847. So his really big hits were happening about the time he was born, and that means that there was never a non-Wagnerian time for young Dvorak.

A huge improvement over the 1st symphony…

The 1st symphony shows immense talent, but it is also obviously not a mature work, and without doubt it is the weakest Dvorak symphony. By this 2nd symphony there is tremendous evolution. Dvorak just seemed to get better and better with each new symphony.

Another long symphony…

The first two symphonies are the longest, around 54 minutes long each, so this one is also a complicated, wandering composition, but unlike many other people I like it as it is. I like long movies, long stories and long musical stories too, if I enjoy the experience.

This was written in 1865…

I always like to know when something was written because it tells a lot about what the composer may have heard before he started writing his own music. Commentary I’ve read praises the originality of the music but suggests that it is very sprawling. I’m not sure I agree. The music seems to unfold effortlessly, and the whole symphony was very enjoyable to me. To measure it against his later symphonies seems unfair. At this point Dvorak was just finding his own voice. Even if what we hear has elements of many other composers, I think there is enough striking originality to give us a very good idea of what Brahms heard in the young composer, and why he backed him so strongly.

He could not pay the binder…

Dvorak sent the score to be bound, but could not pay the binder, who kept the score. Like a number of his other very early works, according to some sources, Dvorak wanted to destroy this symphony as well. He was apparently prevented from doing so by Moric Anger, with whom he was sharing a flat at the time: a sketchily documented account states that Dvorak intended to have the completed score bound but, because he couldn’t pay for the binding,

Moric Anger was a kind friend and saved this wonderful music from being destroyed in a fit of depression…

When Dvorak later thought of discarding the work, Anger demanded the money owed to him. Dvorak was unable to pay back the debt, so Anger took the score as security. He only returned it once he was confident that the composer no longer had any plans to destroy it.

In 1887 Dvorak revisited the score…

He revised the orchestration extensively, which is typical for composers, and it’s important to know that he did not do the same thing with his 1st symphony because he thought it had been destroyed. The 1st symphony was not published until the 1950s, also true of this symphony. But Dvorak did not even have the score to work on, and he never heard it performed.

This was never printed during his lifetime…

This symphony was first performed from his manuscript in 1888 in Prague’s Rudolfinum, conducted by Adolf Cech. Imagine, 23 years went by before the world heard this, and then it was not even published.

Dvorak began writing his second symphony a mere four months after completing his first symphony.

He was working fast and developing rapidly as a composer.

The form is unusual…

None of the movements begins directly with the main theme; in all four cases their entrance is preceded by an introduction. The 4th movement is strikingly original, very modern sounding in comparison to most music of the time.

 

 

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