Antonín Leopold Dvořák (8 September 1841 – 1 May 1904) was a Czech composer. After Bedřich Smetana, he was the second Czech composer to achieve worldwide recognition. Following Smetana's nationalist example, Dvořák frequently employed aspects, specifically rhythms, of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák's own style has been described as "the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them."
Symphonic Variations on the Theme “I am a fiddler” (Symfonické variace z písně „Já jsem huslař“) for orchestra, Op. 78, B. 70, (1877)
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek
Live at the Proms Royal Albert Hall, August 27, 2007
Supposedly, the work was a response to a challenge from a friend to write variations on a theme that seemed impossible for that purpose. Dvořák chose the third of his set of three part-songs for unaccompanied male voices (Sborové písně pro mužské hlasy), B. 66, titled "Huslař", or "Já jsem huslař" ("The fiddler", or "I am a fiddler"; text by Adolf Heyduk - the other two songs were from Moravian folk poetry). The three songs were written in mid-January 1877 and first performed on 4 March. The third song is in ternary form (ABA), where the lengths of the phrases are 7, 6, and 7 bars. But far from being impossible as a subject of variations, the theme turned out to be exceptionally well suited for that purpose.
The Symphonic Variations were written between 6 August and 28 September 1877. The work was first performed in the Žofín concert hall in Prague on 2 December 1877, by the Provisional Theatre [Prozatímní divadlo] Orchestra, under conductor Ludevít Procházka. The occasion was a charity concert to raise money for the construction of a church in Prague's Smíchov district, and, although the audience liked the piece, there was no press coverage of it. Also, Dvořák's publishers were not interested in the work. Doubly discouraged, he put it aside for ten years, concentrating on other projects.
In March 1887, under pressure to produce more music, Dvořák revived the work, this time conducting it himself in Prague's Rudolfinum. The National Theatre Orchestra so pleased him with this second performance that he decided to send the score to the conductor Hans Richter. Richter was delighted with it and immediately included the piece in the programme for his forthcoming English tour. He wrote to the composer on 17 May after the first rehearsal with the Philharmonic Society in London on 13 May, "I am absolutely carried away. It is a magnificent work! I am so happy to be the first to produce it in London. But why have you held it back so long? These variations should shine in the first rank of your compositions".
The concert itself later that month was a huge success, and Richter wrote again, "At the hundreds of concerts which I have conducted during my life, no new work has ever had such a success as yours"
Dvořák's Symphonic Variations are among the three most frequently played of all sets of orchestral variations, along with Brahms's Variations on a Theme by Haydn and Elgar's Enigma Variations. Hubert Parry's Symphonic Variations were doubtlessly influenced by Dvořák's example.
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