Dvořák and his world by Beckerman, Michael; Dvořák, Antonín

By Beckerman, Michael; Dvořák, Antonín

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19 PART I: ESSAYS The changes in the musical culture in the decades following his death in 1904 helped add two new twists to the assessment of Dvofak. Modernity, in its pejorative sense, had brought with it avant-garde music that seemed to mirror the worst qualities of the machine. Modernism seemed explicitly destructive to a nineteenth-century aesthetic of the beautiful in music that Dvofak helped to popularize. At the same time, the basis of the reaction against modernism was a broad-based but sentimental and superficial aesthetic.

Dvofak resisted a Smetana-like monothematic impulse until his very late work, more than a decade after Smetana's death. Likewise (and this defines the contrast with Richard Strauss), Dvofak was not interested in the power of music to wax philosophical. In Dvofak's late symphonic poems, he sought to parallel the experience of hearing and seeing a story told. In the mature symphonies he used form, harmonic contrasts, and thematic differentiation to highlight a leading line, eschewing the multilayered, nearly contrapuntal character of late Brahms.

T h e elevation of the presumably "primitive" folk material into the conventional vocabulary of cosmopolitan lyric, dramatic, and dance music came easily to Dvorak. In musical terms, it represented an exact civilizing analogue to his life and his personal aspirations. B u t the more fascinating and innovative strategy evident in the greatest of the symphonic and chamber music of Dvorak is how the national element f u n c t i o n e d when it a p p e a r e d only elusively and was fully integrated.

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