Dvořák – Symphony No. 7 in D-Minor, Op. 70

by Max Derrickson

Antonin Dvořák   (Born in 1841 near Prague, Bohemia(now Czech Republic); died in1904 in Prague)

Symphony No. 7 in D-Minor, Op. 70

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For centuries, Western music came fromItaly,Germany, and France, and by the mid-1800’s it seemed that all serious music (the symphony in particular) was coming from, or written like, the composers of Germany. But countries such as Finland, Norway, and the blossoming Czech Republic felt that they had not established their national identity in the world. In the political rivalries and fought-over boundaries, national identities were sought, even in the concert hall.   [. . .]  Composers like Smetana and Dvorák were extremely conscious of this, and vowed religiously to offer a nationalistic musical identity.

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Dvorák knew humble beginnings. He was born in a small village on the banks of the Vtlava, some 45 miles north ofPrague. At age 11, he left school to become an apprenticed butcher. His musical interest and abilities, however, eventually won his future. He studied organ, viola, and piano. For a time he was an orchestral violist, but gave this up to spend all his time composing. In 1874, he entered no fewer than 15 works for the Austrian National Prize, which compelled the interest of Johannes Brahms. From this point, the success of Dvorák rose to great heights.

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[. . .] Dvorák had hoped that his Seventh would “shake the world.” Such was the typically passionate character of this composer. It is a sweeping narrative, this symphony, though spoken in the language of the classical tradition. There is always a poignant urgency in the work; the mood of tragedy laid upon a tapestry of solemnity and foreboding overtones. One cannot help being entirely consumed in the vastness of this remarkable piece.