Simon Russell Beale discovers how nationalist voices such as Tchaikovsky and Dvorak brought the symphony to wider audiences in the late 19th century.
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Vienna 1876. The place was a building site.
The hub of an empire and the symphony.
The Emperor Franz Joseph had decided the city walls should come down
to be replaced by a prestigious urban boulevard - The Ringstrasse.
Another Ring, Wagner's massive music drama
with its Ride of the Valkyries, was being created at the same time.
Two ground-breaking moments
and both Rings took about 30 years to construct.
The Austrian writer Karl Kraus said,
"Vienna was being demolished into a great city."
With a classical Parliament building, Athena presiding at the front,
a Gothic style town hall, and a Renaissance-style university.
But constructed before any of these, in 1868, was the Opera House.
Music remained of course an abiding interest for the Viennese public
and at the time debate was fierce about whether new music should be
descriptive or abstract - Wagner versus Brahms.
The symphony was at the centre of this controversy.
In this programme we'll see how it emerged triumphant.
How it became a vehicle for nationalist sentiment and gained genuine popular appeal.
And how it became the means of intense artistic self expression.
We'll also see how composers like Dvorak, Tchaikovsky
and Sibelius came to the expanding city of Vienna
and exported the symphony to new nations and new worlds.
Why does a film about the symphony start with an opera,
and in particular an opera by Wagner, who once declared
emphatically that the symphony was dead?
MUSIC: Beethoven's Symphony No 9
The problem was how to follow a composer like Beethoven,
who in his 9th Symphony in 1824 seemed to have taken the classical four-movement form
as far as it could go with its ground-breaking choral finale.
Despite the attempts of his successors,
was Beethoven the final word in symphonic writing?
Richard Wagner certainly thought so,
and when he held the first performance of The Ring, his massive music drama
at his specially-built theatre in Bayreuth, he began it with
Beethoven's 9th, as if to say "roll over Beethoven, now it's my turn."
Wagner's Ring is a cycle of four operas over four evenings.
15 hours of music telling the story of humanity from dawn to dusk.
The premiere in 1876 wasn't just a musical event,
but a political event, attended by crowned heads of Europe.
Everybody who was anybody was there.
But all the drama over The Ring made someone want to stand up for the symphony.
Johannes Brahms, 20 years Wagner's junior,
was a classicist who was ready to fight for pure symphonic music.
The arena for this particular contest was Vienna's new concert hall, the Musikverein.
The land was donated by the Emperor Franz Joseph.
It was built by the Gesellshaft der Musik Freunde,
the Society of Friends of Music, and opened in 1870.
MUSIC: Opening of Brahms' Symphony No 1, 1st Movement.
Brahms was from Hamburg in northern Germany, brought up in
the protestant Lutheran tradition, although he didn't stay a believer.
He'd been working on his first symphony for 14 years,
all the time he'd been in Vienna.
Brahms had already made it clear that writing a symphony after Beethoven's 9th was no joke.
You've no idea", he said, "how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven.
Although he was over 40 at this stage and had certainly taken his time,
the fuss over Wagner's Ring had made him determined to finish
the symphony ready for a premiere in 1876.
After initial performances in Germany, Brahms himself conducted
his 1st symphony here at the Musikverein on 17th December
of that year as part of celebrations for Beethoven's birthday.
The hall was packed, but not with the heads of state, who went
to Wagner's premiere in Bayreuth.
The decor may be opulent,
but the Musikverein wasn't built for the aristocracy, but for the Viennese middle-class.
When the hall was opened, it was the first concert hall in Vienna,
real, definite great concert hall.
And every new work was welcomed highly.
The audience was very much interested in hearing contemporary music
because at that time the only interesting things were new things.
Brahms' new symphony was written for what is now the modern symphony orchestra.
The music for this programme is played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mark Elder.
'By the time he started writing his greatest pieces,
'Brahms had mastered the legacy of Beethoven'
and turned it into something even more muscular than Beethoven's music.
But he had the vision of how great symphonic masterpieces
could aim at the highest emotional planes.
Every great symphonic writer takes an audience on an emotional narrative journey through the piece.
For me, that's one of the definitions of a great symphony.
MUSIC: Brahms' Symphony No 1, 4th Movement.
The French horn - such a symbol of romantic energy - has an heroic feel to it as well.
And this is something that possibly Brahms could have taken from Beethoven.
But underneath it, the strings shimmer
and that's something I think that Beethoven wouldn't have done in that same way.
That sense of contacting nature - just like the romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich -
is very vivid, memorable, and superbly well done.
That contact with nature is then surprisingly
interrupted by a chorale on the trombones and this protestant,
perhaps Lutheran chorale,
recalling Brahms' musical past, but also perhaps his own childhood,
calms the soul.
And from that sense of stillness
sings the last movement's main tune.
Now this tune in C major, the primary key,
has a whiff of the great tune of the last movement of Beethoven's choral symphony
that introduces the Ode to Joy.
And when somebody pointed that out to Brahms he said, "Oh, any silly ass can see that!"
Brahms' symphony was a great success
and the enthusiasm was further promoted by music critics.
The most important was Edward Hanslick,
who also fanned the flames of the Brahms/Wagner debate.
The rise of the critic here in Vienna was very important.
It's inconceivable now, I think,
to think of a major critic like Hanslick writing a long article
on the front page of the Neue Freie Presse,
which is the equivalent of the London Times,
going on to page two and page three,
about the first performance in Vienna of Brahms' 1st Symphony.
Which he did.
And people would read that at breakfast alongside international news on the front page of the paper.
In his front page article, which surprisingly hasn't been translated into English before, Hanslick wrote,
"It must be recognised by friend and foe alike, that no other composer
"has come as close to the greatest creations of Beethoven as Brahms has in the finale of his symphony."
Hanslick, of course,
was very much a friend of Brahms and pure music and a foe of Wagner whom
he felt was destroying melody and form in favour of philosophising.
Wagner's argument was that music is not pure.
One can use music politically as well as aesthetically to raise all
sorts of questions about society, about people's psychology, what music
does to them, what music can have an effect on an audience in this space.
Just imagine the Gotterdammerung music sounding in this space against all these classical things.
But the idea is to convey ideas with the music
and Wagner is a composer of ideas.
In 1875, Wagner himself had conducted
excerpts from The Ring here in the Musikverein to build up
an appetite for the premiere at Bayreuth.
Mark Elder is demonstrating - perhaps controversially -
that while Wagner was writing mythological music dramas
for the opera house, he was also composing symphonically.
In my view, Wagner was one of the greatest symphonic composers,
by that I mean he invented a number, a large number of little themes,
motifs associated with the characters, the actions, the events, even places, objects.
And he wrote the opera, he set his words, accompanied them
with this enormously elaborate orchestral texture.
Can you give me an example of a theme he might use?
Yes, let's look at Siegfried and Brunhilde, the heroine and the hero.
When we first see them, their music is very, very different
and it's quite clear which pieces belongs to which character.
Here's one for Brunhilde... PLAYS THEME
Tender, loving, affectionate, gentle,
big intervals expressing big emotions but in a small dynamic.
Now another one that he needs, of course, is to portray his hero Siegfried.
Listen to this... PLAYS THEME
All together grander, heroic, masculine in its strong rhythm
and its clear cut idea.
That little tune, short as it is,
can then later on appear even shorter when she speaks of their love,
the things that draw them together and he changes it to suit the occasion.
Now this process of developing the characters of the themes is what I would call the symphonic process
that he was engaged in.
And by the time he'd finished the Ring he'd got the full
flow of it and his attitude towards how he used these little themes
and musical ideas to suit the drama became really loose, became
very free and sometime we can't quite understand why that particular
little musical idea is embedded in the jewellery of the texture.
-So he released the themes from the story?
-A bit, yes.
He did in order to draw out gorgeous symphonic music,
to build up the themes into great architectural masses of sound.
I mean really beautiful.
MUSIC: Wagner's Gotterdammerung
It's hard to appreciate now, just how divided musical opinion
across Europe was and how polarised it became between two warring camps.
Wagner didn't just have fans, he had worshippers.
One of the most important was a young organist and composer called Anton Bruckner.
Bruckner was a provincial boy, born near Linz.
He became a choirboy
and organist in the Augustinian monastery of St Florian.
He was a very devout Catholic.
Mahler described him as half simpleton, half God.
His 3rd Symphony was dedicated to Wagner and premiered here
in the Musikverein in December 1877, just one year after Brahms' 1st.
The effect of Wagner is huge,
not that Bruckner's music sounds like Wagner - it doesn't.
It's much more bold harmonically,
but Wagner showed him how you can organise huge spaces of music.
How you could use harmony
and expressiveness to fill out large spaces of time in music.
It hadn't been done before.
His symphonies were built with huge blocks of stone,
gradually being built up like a cathedral, not a parish church.
And of course for many people, that music takes them closer to their God.
The great spiritual dimension that he as a man had is reflected in these enormous edifices, musically.
The scale of Bruckner 3 - it lasts for well over an hour -
is reflected in the urban expansion of Vienna itself.
Between 1860 and 1900 the city trebled in size
from half a million to 1.5 million inhabitants.
The symphonies reflected more the fears of what was going on
rather than the triumph, which is why, I think, Bruckner symphonies
took a long time to get a foothold in Vienna.
Brahms had described the typical Bruckner symphonies like a massive boa constrictor
and the concert, here at the Musikverein,
was a disaster with much of the audience walking out before the end.
Bruckner's eccentric, monumental symphonies were eventually accepted in Vienna, of course,
but both Bruckner and Mahler didn't really enter the international repertoire until the 1960s and '70s.
Their symphonies are long, ground-breaking works - full of ambition, but also anxiety.
Like the city in which the composers lived.
This is Franz Joseph, depicted as Caesar on the front of the Parliament building in Vienna.
Franz Joseph ruled over 17 distinct nationalities within the Hapsburg Empire.
But many of these weren't that happy about being included in such a vast conglomerate
and rose up in revolt in 1848.
It was after this difficult time that Franz Joseph, then only 18,
was placed on the throne and began his long reign of 68 years.
But nationalist pressure wouldn't go away - many demands went un-met
and nationalist resentment intensified, particularly in Bohemia.
"A year ago", wrote a Leipzig newspaper in 1880,
"news flashed across the German music world
"of a miraculous talent residing in Prague."
"What heightens the charm of Dvorak's compositions
"is the sharply etched nationality that accompanies them."
In the symphonic world, as in the political arena,
nationalism was becoming a potent force.
Dvorak's father was a butcher, but he also ran the local inn.
So the boy must have grown up with the sounds
of celebratory singing and dancing.
His Sixth Symphony was written for the Vienna Philharmonic,
but in fact it was premiered here in Prague in 1881.
The Vienna Philharmonic didn't get around to playing it until 1942.
Dvorak used Brahms' symphonies as his model,
but instead of the typical scherzo or intermezzo movement, he wrote
a furiant, a Bohemian folkdance that became his distinctive calling card.
What gives the furiant its bounce is the way it shifts
between two-beat and three-beat rhythms,
which stems from the nature of the dance.
The man here is performing his masculinity
and he takes advantage of this 2/4 measure
to show how he is strong,
how he is proud, how he is clever.
And it's always during this 3/4 measure that it's the dancing
in the couple and about the dancing of the woman also.
Dvorak understood very well the nature of the dance,
what was the spirit of the dance,
so I think, in this way, he was very accurate.
I notice that the dance was a bit slower.
Dvorak speeded it up quite a lot, didn't he?
Yes, because it was virtuosity that he wanted to show.
But it was not written for a dance.
So when you need to dance the music has to be slower.
Why did he include this dance in this symphony?
Because it had the meaning of the national feeling,
so I think this was important for them to show
the national identity in the music.
What Dvorak is trying to do is to take the symphony away
from the elite audience to a much wider audience.
And, in this, he is a very modern composer
although he's not regarded as that today.
This is Vysoka, 60km south-west of Prague,
where Dvorak had a summerhouse.
He came here during the summer months to compose,
to escape the pressures of a busy life in the city.
The house remains in the Dvorak family
and has been left very much as it was when Dvorak died in 1904.
This is my grandmother, Dvorak's wife.
when she married.
She was 18 years old in this time.
She was three months pregnant.
It was unusual in this time but it was the reality.
This desk, is this where he wrote?
Sitting at this little table, Dvorak wrote many great opuses.
-It's tiny, it's very small.
The Eighth Symphony was written here in Vysoka.
Very interesting is this picture of Dvorak's family
on the steps on the 17th East Street in New York.
Here is my grandfather and here are two boys.
One of these boys is my father.
You didn't know your grandfather?
I was born 25 years after his death.
That's a wonderful picture.
This picture is Dvorak sitting on a bench
and feeding his pigeons here.
-Is that here?
-It's down there.
Yes. Yes, this is here.
This has various scores on it.
Manuscripts and other, yes.
Dvorak came to popularity through his Slavonic Dances,
following the success of Brahms with his Hungarian Dances.
Brahms, of course, was imitating Hungarian Gypsies
he'd heard in Vienna, but Dvorak penned his furiants
and other Slavic dances with national pride.
This room was the dining room of the family.
Very special is this picture.
Dvorak and his two friends -
Tchaikovsky and Johannes Brahms.
Especially Johannes Brahms was a very good friend of my grandfather
and Brahms don't believe in God
and Dvorak said once about him "How it is possible that Brahms
"composed such nice music when he don't believe?!"
Brahms admired Dvorak's music
and did a great deal to help the composer.
But, in general, the attitude of the Viennese musical establishment
was condescending if not downright dismissive.
For the Austrians, nationalist composers like Tchaikovsky
and Dvorak were colourful, but not serious.
Once, when someone expressed his admiration for Dvorak's skilful
and brilliant orchestration, Bruckner said, "You can paint a pair
"of sausages blue and green, but they're still a pair of sausages."
In 1890 a young composer came from much farther afield
to continue his studies in Vienna.
Jean Sibelius came from Finland -
way beyond the reach of the Austro-Hungarian Empire,
but Vienna was the place properly to study the symphonic tradition.
He was a huge fan of Wagner, but also admired Beethoven's Ninth
and Bruckner's Third and here, in this symphonic hothouse,
it was inevitable that he should set about to write a symphony.
And, as with Dvorak, it took on national overtones.
Sibelius looked for inspiration to the Finnish national epic,
Elias Lonnrot, who compiled the Kalevala,
published his final version in 1849.
He'd travelled extensively into remote parts of Karelia -
an area that covers parts of eastern Finland and Russia
- where he collected folk songs and poetry from peasant bards
and reworked these into a long rambling tale of over 22,000 verses.
With the figure of the bard Vainamoinen,
a sort of Finnish Orpheus, at its heart,
the Kalevala became a major inspiration
for artists, musicians and advocates of a Finnish national identity.
This is the autograph score of Kullervo by Jean Sibelius.
From the mass of different stories and mythological characters
in the Kalevala, Sibelius focused on the tragic, anti-hero Kullervo
in his choral symphony.
Here you can see the programme text, the Kalevala, in the score.
Here we go.
Here we go, here is the first.
It's always so exciting.
Now, why was the Kalevala so important
to Finnish national aspirations?
First of all because it was in Finnish
and it was Finnish folk poetry.
It has been said that Kalevala showed to us Finns
that Finland had its own history
already before the Christian era, or the Swedish or the Russian era.
After six centuries of Swedish domination, the Grand Duchy
of Finland became part of the Russian Empire in 1809 and Helsinki
became something of a showcase for the Russian emperor Alexander I.
The central Senate Square of the city
is very much in the St Petersburg style.
This statue of Alexander II was built in 1894.
He was remembered as "the good tsar", a reformer.
Unlike most nationalities within the Russian Empire,
the Finns enjoyed a degree of autonomy, but during the 1890s,
the Russians began to limit this and this inevitably fuelled
the Finnish nationalist movement.
With Kullervo written in 1892 and, of course, Finlandia,
his patriotic piece par excellence, which was composed in 1899,
Sibelius found himself a national, even nationalist figure.
This painting, called Symposium, depicts a gathering of artists
and musicians of the time.
It shows Sibelius on the right, Robert Kajanus,
who conducted the premiere of the Kullervo Symphony, next to him.
The figure worse for wear is a music critic,
oblivious to everything and the fourth character
is the artist himself, Akseli Gallen-Kallela,
a good friend of Sibelius.
He is famous for his Kalevala paintings
and I went to the Ateneum Gallery to find out more.
There are statistics about the popularity of Kalevala stories
in Finnish art, visual art and culture in general
and through all times, Kullervo, his very tragic story,
has been the most popular story and motif from Kalevala.
And thinking about the times when Kullervo has been most popular
was exactly the time of young Sibelius, young Gallen-Kallela,
the turn of the 19th century, 1890s.
So there is a strong link to the times
when Finnish national identity was being threatened.
Sibelius' Kullervo Symphony tells the tragic story
of Kullervo seducing a woman he meets,
who he finds out later is his sister.
But Sibelius' depiction of this, with its aggressive brass,
is remarkable in 19th century music
and makes it sound more like rape than seduction.
Here we arrive at the climax of the third movement,
the very powerful culmination of the movement.
-Ah, yes, all the brass here playing very, very loudly indeed.
Sibelius arrived just at the right time
as the Finns were really dying to get out from underneath
the yoke of being dominated and run by Russia.
And there was this extraordinary rough, wild, undisciplined,
And he found, through his long life, a way to express
the feeling in his people and in his love for his country.
But he never wanted to be thought of as a nationalist composer,
he never wanted to have a political message.
His music came from his own rigour inside himself
that he eventually worked at and found,
and through his own natural gifts of drama in music.
Sibelius wanted his music to express a nationalism,
but also be internationally
well-known as well.
And he was so popular in England and America
because, unlike Germany, these two countries also did not have
a great institutional musical culture behind them.
When you think about Germany, an opera house in every city,
a symphony orchestra and so forth, it's not the case in England
and it's certainly not the case in America.
So you have someone with Beethovenian ambitions
trying to establish something meaningful in the symphony
that is an alternative to the German tradition.
MUSIC: Sibelius' Symphony No. 2
In 1907, Gustav Mahler came to Helsinki
to conduct a concert
and he met the painter Gallen-Kallela,
whom he knew from an exhibition in Vienna,
and he met Sibelius.
Taking a walk one day, the two composers discussed symphonic form.
Sibelius said that he admired the severity and logic of the form
that created inner connections between the motifs.
Mahler replied that his opinion was very different.
"A symphony should be like the world," he said.
"It should embrace everything."
MUSIC: Mahler's Symphony No.2, 1st Movement
This is the Secession building in Vienna,
one of the finest examples of an artistic movement
known as jugendstil, the Young Style.
And here is Gustav Mahler as a heroic knight in shining armour,
painted by his friend Gustav Klimt.
This frieze, which pictures Beethoven's 9th Symphony
as seen through Wagner's eyes, was painted
for a great Beethoven exhibition in 1902
at which Mahler conducted an arrangement of the 9th Symphony.
Mahler's 3rd symphony picks up on the idea
of Beethoven's Ode to Joy. But as well as harking back to that,
it looks out with ferocious energy onto a new world.
Klimt's vision, like Mahler's, is a very personal one.
The first wall represents heroic ambition.
Featuring Mahler, of course.
The second wall represents the obstacles that mankind
has to overcome, including animal instincts.
And the final section, taking its cue from Schiller's lyrics
in the Ode to Joy,
shows the kiss to the whole world
that comes at the end of Beethoven's 9th.
Mahler's 3rd is a symphony that pushed the form to its limits.
It has six movements and at nearly 100 minutes in length,
it's one of the longest symphonies in the repertoire.
The first movement represents the unstoppable forces of nature.
Summer is the victor amidst all that is blooming and growing.
It's about the whole of creation. Mahler moves on to flowers, animals,
mankind and the angels.
But, of course, it's really about Mahler himself.
This, after all, is the Vienna of Freud
and the symphony has become a vehicle for self expression
and a picture of the artist's vision of the world around him.
Music: Mahler's Symphony No.3, 1st Movement
Mahler was fascinated at the opportunity
of stretching the orchestra,
making it do things that no one else had dared go to.
And his interest in these very, very extreme sound worlds
came from everything that he was, a very complex personality.
A man who gave up his Jewish faith to become a Christian,
to help himself do better in Vienna and run the opera.
A man who was brought up in a tiny village, way out in the countryside
that had a very substantial barracks in it.
And so his childhood was full of military marching music
and strange, out of tune fanfares.
Now this is pretty rare, isn't it, everybody?
This little word - roh!
It does not stand for Royal Opera House.
It stands for the word which means unrefined.
It's not so much that it needs to be very loud,
it just needs to have a particular bite or edge to it, doesn't it?
Tuk! Tuk! Tuk! Yeah?
Not wholly musical. Can I hear it? Two, three, four...
ORCHESTRA STOPS PLAYING
OK, good. That's better.
If the horns are a bit softer and a little bit edgier,
I think it would be better. And also earlier.
It's late. Two, three, four...
Let me just address what the oboes are going to do.
Could I just hear it, the three Fs?
It says "grell." Well, that just means shrill.
This sounds like loud oboe playing. Sounds great, sounds quality.
It shouldn't sound quality, it should sound strident
and exaggerated. It's been suggested that the best way
to do it is to actually put the reed further in the mouth.
Just put it all further in. Would you try that?
Don't worry if it sounds distorted, that's what he wants.
One, two, three...
OBOES PLAY SHRILLY
That's it, that's better.
One, two, three...
'What he was trying to do was experiment'
with how far the orchestra could be taken
and in this way, of course, he was a great successor to Berlioz
who wanted to do the same thing in his time.
And in a way, that makes Mahler the first
of the great 20th century composers.
Mahler composed during his holidays.
His day job was here,
as conductor and director of the Court Opera.
Born in Bohemia and raised as a Jew, Mahler was always the outsider.
Being a Jew, he said, was like being born with a short arm
and having to swim twice as hard.
Indeed, despite his obvious talents,
he came up against anti-Semitism.
But salvation was at hand.
Symphonic culture had become all the rage a thousand miles away
and Mahler, along with nationalist composers Dvorak, Tchaikovsky
and Sibelius, was imported to plant the seed of a new musical culture.
MUSIC: Dvorak's Symphony No.9, 'New World'
America, and particularly New York, provided a new
and highly lucrative market for European musical culture.
Tchaikovsky was invited to attend
the opening of the Carnegie Hall in 1891,
Mahler came to conduct the New York Symphony Orchestra
and The Metropolitan Opera, and Dvorak was asked to head The National Conservatory
where his annual salary of 15,000 was nearly 30 times more
than he was earning at the conservatoire in Prague.
Most significantly however,
it was here in New York that Dvorak composed his symphony No 9,
from the New World which was premiered in 1893.
Clive, on Dec 16, 1893,
the New World Symphony was premiered here at Carnegie Hall.
First of all, can you tell me something about Mr Carnegie?
He was possibly the most successful industrialist of his age.
At one time, he was reckoned to be the richest man in the world.
He was a steelmaker, but also an unbelievable philanthropist
and, of course, he created Carnegie Hall.
But that came about because his wife sang in a chorus
and there was no concert hall. So, as you do,
she asked him to build a concert hall for her.
Instead of going to the greatest architect of the day,
he went to the guy who was treasurer of the choral society.
He was a cellist, he was a musician, he wasn't well known.
He asked him to build a concert hall. He'd never built one
in his life before. He sent him to Europe to look at all the concert halls
and he came back and built something unlike anything he'd seen.
Now the concert itself, it was conducted by Anton Seidl
-who was a big international figure.
He was assistant to Hans Richter,
assisted with conducting the Ring Cycle in Bayreuth.
He came here, in fact he was a great Wagnerian, so he conducted
a lot of Wagner here as well. So he made a huge impact here.
He was the most important musician in New York.
Despite being built by a novice,
Carnegie Hall was praised for its acoustics and it soon became
the landmark in American cultural life that it remains today.
All across America,
in Boston and Chicago, for instance, symphony halls were built
and a new entrepreneurial and middle class
went to the symphony to hear symphonies.
And Dvorak was there to help them
Americanise a European musical culture.
Dvorak was important
because, as a Czech, he had created Czech culture,
by, in a sense, taking international culture, which was really German,
taking out the Germanisms and putting in Czechisms.
It was hoped that he would come to the United States, take out the Czechisms, put in Americanisms
and be a kind of object lesson for American composers
about how one makes national music that belongs to them,
rather than to some other distant culture.
Dvorak stayed in America for two and a half years.
He was taken to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show,
which also included Native American musicians.
And amongst his pupils at the conservatory
were several African Americans, notably the singer Henry T Burleigh
and composer Will Marion Cook, who went on to teach Duke Ellington.
"In the negro melodies of America," Dvorak said,
"I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music."
When he arrived in America,
Dvorak was given articles and musical material
that he might use in his compositions.
One of the most famous was a journal called Negro Music,
with an article by somebody with the improbable name
of Johann Tonsor, that had six examples of black music.
And it seems that Dvorak certainly drew on these
for the composition of the New World Symphony.
Here's one fragment of Swing Low Sweet Chariot...
PLAYS MAIN MELODY
..which is very much like the New World Symphony.
PLAYS SIMILAR SEQUENCE
And do we know anything about the author, this Johann Tonsor?
Johann Tonsor doesn't exist.
Johann Tonsor was a name made up by a wonderful woman,
who was an ethnographer of Afro-American music from Kentucky
named Mildred Hill, who was, I think, the only person
Dvorak came into contact with whose music was more famous than Dvorak's
-because she wrote Happy Birthday.
The other American culture
that attracted Dvorak's interest was that of the Native Americans.
He didn't hear much of their music,
but was captivated by the Hiawatha story.
Dvorak became deeply involved with Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha.
He'd known it as a young man -
the Czech translator was a friend of his.
Dvorak told the critic Henry Krehbiel
that the Largo was based on a chapter called Hiawatha's Wooing,
and I believe it represents Hiawatha and Minnehaha's journey
through primeval American spaces.
It was originally faster,
but under the influence of the Wagnerian conductor Anton Seidl,
it turned from probably an andante to a larghetto.
Then we see it crossed out on the manuscript.
Larghetto crossed out,
largo finally appearing there as the speed,
with some equation between the slowness
and the deep expressivity of the passage.
We've arrived up here, in fact where Dvorak sat.
-In Box 10.
-So how was it received?
-It was received incredibly.
Everybody loved the music.
I think what was important was it related to them as well.
There were American themes.
It was a piece for America, and of America, in America.
MUSIC: "Symphony No 9 New World" by Dvorak
Writing about the premier, James Gibbons Huneker,
the journalist who'd given Dvorak the article with Negro Tunes,
acknowledged the new hybrid soil
in which this musical culture was taking root.
"Dvorak's symphony is American, is it?
"Themes from negro melodies composed by a Bohemian,
"conducted by a Hungarian
"and played by Germans in a hall built by a Scotchman.
"It will probably be many years
"before a concert will be talked and written about as was this one."
The New York Conservatory folded during the depression in the 1930s.
The house where Dvorak lived and composed the New World Symphony
was demolished in 1991.
But his influence on American music was lasting.
His famous largo sounds so much like a negro spiritual
that it was given words by one of his pupils, William Arms Fisher,
and famously recorded by African American singer Paul Robeson.
# ..I'm just going home... #
It's become a piece of American popular music.
# ..I'm just going home. #
MUSIC: Symphony No 6, 3rd Movement by Tchaikovsky
At this time, having a symphonic tradition
proved you were a proper nation.
That's why America wanted Dvorak to create one.
Just as the powerful Russian Empire had done a generation earlier
using elements of their folk music.
Here in St Petersburg, most successful at combining
the national soul with Germanic tradition was Tchaikovsky
writing symphonic music that was passionate and emotional.
In October 1893, Tchaikovsky's latest symphony, his 6th,
had its premiere here at the Philharmonic Hall,
conducted by the composer himself.
Partly because of its immense popularity,
Tchaikovsky's music is often dismissed.
But this symphony, known as the Pathetique,
is one of the most original and deeply personal ever written.
Tchaikovsky may have been using a public form,
but it's a work that's full of private emotion.
What Tchaikovsky did in the Pathetique that was so unusual
was to replace an uplifting finale with a searing slow movement,
descending into despair.
The last movement seems to be an epitaph or a farewell.
Full of the most glorious melodic material
that rises to a desperate climax,
as if he was ridding himself of some deep, deep hidden pain,
before allowing itself to come to rest in the final bars, so movingly.
No symphony before had ever ended like this.
And, of course, it has since acquired an even greater power
because Tchaikovsky died just nine days after the premiere.
There was something very personal that Tchaikovsky wanted to say in this piece,
but, in retrospect, it also seems like a requiem for the old Europe,
which couldn't last much longer,
with big destructive changes to come -
which is what we'll be looking at next time.
To go deeper into the music and unravel the secrets of the symphony,
follow the links to the Open University at...
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Simon Russell Beale continues his history of the symphony by taking a musical journey through the rise of nationalism in Europe into the New World. He discovers how nationalist voices such as Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Sibelius brought the symphony to wider audiences and visits Dvorak's summer house as he left it at his death in 1904, a remarkable insight into the personal life of the great composer.
Simon follows the development of the symphony outside Europe and explores how growing urbanisation led to the construction and growing popularity of some of the world's greatest concert halls, visiting the Musikverein in Vienna, the Philharmonic Hall in St Petersburg and Carnegie Hall in New York.
The symphonies are played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder.