Symphony No 5 in A, Op 24/76 (1875)
Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904)
- Allegro ma non troppo
- Andante con moto
- Andante con moto, quasi l’istesso tempo – Allegro scherzando
- Allegro molto
Born in Bohemia the son of a butcher, Dvořák left school at 11 and later graduated from the Prague Organ School (in viola!) and played in what became the Provisional Theatre Orchestra, often conducted by Smetana. In his early days, Dvořák was so poor that he could not afford a piano, so had to slip into a friend’s house to use his! This was to change after the critic Hanslick introduced Dvorak to Brahms, who Dvořák admired enormously. In 1878, Brahms persuaded the publisher Simrock to include Dvořák on his list. With the publication of his Hungarian Dances for piano four hands, Dvořák’s fame in Bohemia was established, and international renown soon followed.
After the rather stodgy fourth symphony, the fifth is a breath of fresh air, and introduces many of the elements that characterise Dvořák’s more famous late symphonies (such as No. 9 From the New World). Composed in only five and a half weeks, it reflects Dvořák’s new-found optimism following his recent receipt from the Austrian government of an annual stipend. Dvořák gave the fifth symphony the opus number 24 on the manuscript, but in 1888, after Dvořák’s rise to international fame, Simrock eventually published it as opus 76, to boost sales by passing it off as a more mature work. (Dvořák played similar games by giving works lower opus numbers to avoid contractual obligations to sell them through Simrock!) Confusingly, the fifth symphony was also known as the third (based on order of publication) prior to adoption of standardised numbering in the 1950’s.
The pastoral first movement is introduced by the clarinets, used prominently throughout the symphony. A taste of Dvořák’s growing interest in folk tunes comes with a Bohemian dance, the furiant. The slow movement is a lyrical intermezzo, its tranquil mood set by cellos and violins, before the flute and bassoon brighten the atmosphere. Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is recalled with occasional bird calls from the flute and clarinet., and the pastoral mood continues into the slow introduction to the third movement, which proceeds without a break. This lively scherzo is a feast of varied orchestral colour, with its extended middle trio section rich in melodies. The energetic and stormy finale’s brooding opening soon gives way to a bold brass statement of the main theme. Pastoral interludes alternate with fiery outbursts, before a hint of the symphony’s opening three-note theme brings the work to a satisfying conclusion.
Performed: June 2013