The Vienna Philharmonic has a rich and notable performance history of these ever-popular symphonies.
Antonin Dvorak’s (1841-1904) reputation as a symphonist finally established itself with the publication of his 5th and 6th symphonies, and the triumphant reception accorded to his greatest symphony the 7th. The 8th is a lighter, sunnier work and was an immediate success, especially in the UK where Dvorak enjoyed a good press and public adulation, and the work had for a short time of ‘The English’ – odd considering it is full of lively Czech and Bohemian dance rhythms.
The 9th symphony is both an American and a Czech symphony. Dvorak commented that upon discovering Negro melodies ‘I discover all that is necessary for a great and noble school of music’. He was also at the time of the 9th’s composition, staying at the small American town of Spillville (300 inhabitants), which had a large émigré Czech community. Although surrounded by people from his homeland, he longed to return home, and a nostalgic feeling permeates the score alongside the influences of Native American themes and Negro spirituals. What the 9th lacks in terms of structure compared with Nos. 6 and 7 it makes up for in sheer melodic riches. It has been a concert-hall favourite since its premiere in New York in 1893.
Dvorak abandoned the symphony after 1893, and embarked on a series of tone poems that contain some of his most remarkable music, and foreshadow the later tone poems of both Sibelius and Strauss, as well as the sound world of Janác?ek. The Noonday Witch together with the other 3 works in the series are all based on Czech folk tales – often brutal and scary. In this work, the mother tries to quieten her baby saying that the noonday witch will come for the baby as punishment if it won’t stop crying… the baby continues to cry, the witch appears and strikes both mother and child dead.
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.