1865: Dvorak: Symphony No. 2 in Bb Major, (“Wagnerian”), age 34

Mr Peabody Says:

In this time period you either were for Wagner or for the traditional German sound. It was called “War of the Romantics” of the, and you can read about it HERE. The upshot is that there were two camps, and they disliked each other. The most interesting exception was Dvorak, who loved music by both factions.

More movie music:

To me Dvorak always sounds like himself., but the Wagnerian influence is very strong, and if anyone asks me why, or where it is, I’ll create some links. At times it sounds it sounds very 20th century to me, because in the last century these kinds of sounds and ideas became very popular in movie music. So more than Wagner I hear adventure and romance, and of course everything that sound 20th century is because Hollywood music has it’s roots in the 19th century.

Maybe start here:

Movement four: Finale: Allegro con fuoco in B-flat major

This is not a short symphony, so even this last movement is about 11 minutes long, but it’s a good place to begin.

Istvan Kertesz

Recordings of the early symphonies remain rare, and Kertesz’s recordings remain the gold standard.

  1. Allegro con moto in B-flat major
  2. Poco adagio in G minor, ends in G major on a Picardy third
  3. Scherzo: Allegro con brio in B-flat major, with trio in A major
  4. Finale: Allegro con fuoco in B-flat major


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

1st Movement:

This is very Wagnerian, but it also has a lot of the Brahms sound. But is it any way a copy of either of those men? No. I would say this is one of the most neglected of all symphonies, and it is likely to become increasingly popular in the future, as more and more people discover such gems from the 1800s.

2nd Movement:

Poco adagio in G minor, ends in G major on a Picardy third: This is less Wagnerian to my ear, and maybe this is most of all showing Dvorak finding his own voice. It’s important to note that by his 3rd symphony he’s done after 36 minutes, yet this one only gets to the 3rd movement after nearly 31 minutes.

3rd Movement:

Scherzo: Allegro con brio in B-flat major, with trio in A major: Once again it’s a a very sunny sound, rich in ideas. The first word that occurs to me is “genial”. It’s easy to listen to, and very peaceful, relaxing.

4th Movement:

Finale: Allegro con fuoco in B-flat major: The lush sound continues, and some kind of meld between Wagner’s ideas and his own continues right to the end.

The rest of the story…

(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.)

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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