Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, Antonin Dvorak

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Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, Antonin Dvorak
Year of Composition: 1893    
Stephen Rosenthal
Allegro ma non troppo
Molto vivace
Finale: Vivace ma non troppo


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, April 10, 1999
Amherst Saxophone Quartet rises to the occasion
Herman Trotter

The 1997 Saxophone Quartet composed by Theodore Wiprud was jointly commissioned by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet and several other ensembles, and has had prior partial performances and has undergone considerable subsequent revision.

The final version of the work was given its initial airing during Friday evening's concert, with the composer on hand to offer comments and listening guides.

The composer says it relies heavily on the whole step as a building block, and sure enough, right at the opening rising whole steps were successively hurled at us in angry bursts by the baritone, tenor, alto and soprano.

The movement's expressive marking is "assertive," and although there eventually was an island of repose in a prolonged slow section, its dominant character relied on music's vertical elements. The key interval appeared in canonic fashion, chordal segments, with a lot of syncopation and key silences, all with intriguing development.

The second movement is marked "Punchy" and is obsessed with staccato playing, much of it undergirded by unfolding lyrical lines. A simple three-note riff swung with increasing energy into a rather bluesy slow section, which Wiprud called an encapsulated slow movement. The staccato dominance returned both as a focus and as support for a series of cadenzas with a decidedly wailing jazz slant. some toneless key slaps and a quick, chirping ending.

The final movement ("Brisk") had a rather "scattered" texture reminiscent of the previous movements, then waded into a sonorous chordal passage and concluded with lightning rising scales and an energetic final fillip.

Although the work showed a lot of originality, imagination and truly held one's attention, the predominance of vertical concerns over sustained linear musical thoughts tended to make the first hearing a bit one-dimensional.

Another premiere was Stephen Rosenthal's transcription of Dvorak's String Quartet in F ("American"). Although the playing of the ensemble, here and elsewhere, was technically and musically superb, it seemed that the translation of string writing to saxes resulted in everything sounding two markings louder than usual: for example, "mf" sounded like "ff."

In addition, there is something about the impingement of the sonorities of the four saxes on each other that produces resonances and overtones which sound alien to those of us who are familiar with the string original. Even the gentle opening trill on the soprano saxophone was so out of character with one's memory of the string quartet that it was almost a "squeaky chalk on the blackboard" experience. And when the soprano in ensemble was pushed into the upper register, there was a reaching quality to the projection which made it sound flat.

It all fell together better in the final movement, leaving a good ring in the ear, but the overall experience was a disappointment.

Lowell Shaw's transcription of Bach's Toccata in D minor for clavier was far more successful, and the superbly articulated supporting lines by baritone Harry Fackelman were a continual pleasure.

Belgian composer Jean Absil's brief, sassy and scampering Quartet, Op. 31 made a fine concert closer, with its intriguing sequential entrances in the slow movement and the finale with an alto opening reminiscent of the famous clarinet solo in "Rhapsody in Blue."

Saxophone Quartet (1997), Theodore Wiprud
Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, Antonin Dvorak
Toccata in d minor, Johann Sebastian Bach
Quatuor pour saxophones, op. 31, Jean Absil
Amherst Saxophone Quartet rises to the occasion

Composer Biography

1841 — 1904

[From Wikipedia]
Antonín Leopold Dvořák, was a Czech composer of Romantic music, who employed the idioms of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. His works include operas, symphonic, choral and chamber music. His best-known works include his New World Symphony, the Slavonic Dances, "American" String Quartet, the opera Rusalka, and Cello Concerto in B minor.
Dvořák was born on September 8, 1841, in the Bohemian village of Nelahozeves, near Prague (then part of Bohemia in the Austrian Empire, now in the Czech Republic), where he spent most of his life. He was baptized as a Roman Catholic in the church of St. Andrew in the village. Dvořák's years in Nelahozeves nurtured the strong Christian faith and love for his Bohemian heritage which so strongly influenced his music.[1] His father František Dvořák (1814–1894) was an innkeeper, professional player of the zither, and a butcher. Although his father wanted him to be a butcher as well, Dvořák went on to pursue a future in music. He received his earliest musical education at the village school which he entered in 1847, age 6. From 1857 to 1859[2] he studied music in Prague's only organ school, and gradually developed into an accomplished player of the violin and the viola. He wrote his first String Quartet when he was twenty years old, two years after graduating.
Throughout the 1860s he played viola in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra, which from 1866 was conducted by Bedřich Smetana. By the time he was eighteen years old, Dvořák was a full-time musician. He was making about $7.50 a month. The constant need to supplement his income pushed him to teach piano lessons. It was through these piano lessons that he met his wife. He originally fell in love with his pupil Josefína Čermáková, for whom he composed Cypress Trees. However, she never returned his love and ended up marrying another man. In 1873 Dvořák married Josefina's younger sister, Anna. They had nine children together, three of whom died during infancy.
It was after his marriage that he left the National Theatre Orchestra, in which he had been playing for eleven years. He secured the job of organist at St. Adalbert’s Church in Prague, which provided him with decent financial security, higher social status, and enough free time to focus on composing. Dvořák composed his second string quintet in 1875, the same year that his first son was born. It was during this year that he produced a multitude of works, including his 5th Symphony, String Quintet No. 2, Piano Trio No. 1 and Serenade for Strings in E.
In 1877, the critic Eduard Hanslick informed him that his music had attracted the attention of the famous Johannes Brahms, whom Dvořák admired greatly. Brahms had a huge influence over Dvořák’s work, especially as the two later became friends. Brahms contacted the musical publisher Simrock, one of the major European publishers. Published in 1878, the above mentioned works were an immediate success. Dvořák's Stabat Mater (1880) was performed abroad, and after a successful performance in London in 1883, Dvořák was invited to visit England where he appeared to great acclaim in 1884. His Symphony No. 7 was written for London; it premiered there in 1885. Dvořák visited England nine times in total,[2] often conducting his own works there.
In 1890, influenced by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Dvořák also visited Russia, and conducted the orchestras in Moscow and in St. Petersburg.[2] In 1891 Dvořák received an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, and was offered a position at the Prague Conservatory as professor of composition and instrumentation. At first he refused the offer, but then later accepted; this change of mind was seemingly a result of a quarrel with his publisher, Simrock, over payment for his Eighth Symphony. His Requiem premiered later that year in Birmingham at the Triennial Music Festival.
From 1892 to 1895, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, at a then-staggering $15,000 annual salary. The Conservatory had been founded by a wealthy and philanthropic socialite, Jeannette Thurber; it was located at 126-128 East 17th Street,[3][4] but was demolished in 1911 and replaced by what is now a high school.
Dvořák’s main goal in America was to discover “American Music” and engage in it, much as he had utilized Czech folk idioms within his music. Shortly after his arrival in America in 1892, Dvořák wrote a series of newspaper articles reflecting on the state of American music. He supported the concept that African-American and Native American music should be used as a foundation for the growth of American music. He felt that through the music of Native Americans and African-Americans, Americans would find their own national style of music.[5] Here Dvořák met with Harry Burleigh, his pupil at the time and one of the earliest African-American composers. Burleigh introduced Dvořák to traditional American Spirituals at Dvořák's request.[6]
In the winter and spring of 1893, while in New York, Dvořák wrote Symphony No.9, "From the New World". On December 15, 1893, Henry Edward Krehbiel wrote a complete analysis in the New York Daily Tribune regarding Dvořák's symphony. He spent the summer of 1893 with his family in the Czech-speaking community of Spillville, Iowa, to which some of his cousins had earlier immigrated. While there he composed the String Quartet in F (the "American"), and the String Quintet in E flat, as well as a Sonatina for violin and piano. He also conducted a performance of his Eighth Symphony at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago that same year.
Over the course of three months in 1895, Dvořák wrote his Cello Concerto in B minor. However, problems with Mrs. Thurber about his salary, together with increasing recognition in Europe — he had been made an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna — and a remarkable amount of homesickness made him decide to return to Bohemia. He informed Mrs. Thurber, who still owed him his salary, that he was leaving. Dvořák and his wife left New York before the end of the spring term with no intention of returning.
Dvořák's New York home was located at 327 East 17th Street near Perlman Place.[7] It was in this home that the Ninth Symphony was written. Despite protests, from then Czech President Václav Havel amongst others, who wanted the house preserved as a historical site, it was demolished to make room for a Beth Israel Medical Center residence for people with AIDS.[8] To honor Dvořák, however, a statue of him was erected in Stuyvesant Square.[4][9]
After returning home from America, Dvořák at first spent most of his time resting and spending time with his family in the country. During his final years, Dvořák concentrated on composing opera and chamber music. In 1896 he visited London for the last time to hear the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor. In 1897 his daughter married a pupil of his – the composer Josef Suk. Dvořák was appointed a member of the jury for the Viennese Artist’s Stipendium, and later was honored with a medal. Dvořák succeeded Antonín Bennewitz as director of the Conservatory in Prague in November 1901 until his death.[10] His 60th birthday was celebrated as a national event, with organized concerts and even a banquet in his honor. He died from heart failure on May 1, 1904, following five weeks of illness. His funeral was on May 5. He is interred in the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague, under his bust by Czech sculptor Ladislav Šaloun.

Composition Notes

Dvorak, Antonin the great Czech composer lived in the United States from 1892 to 1895. It was during this time that he composed the Quartet in F Major. The work acquired the nickname "American" almost immediately. Several years ago, after the ASQ gave a performance in Pittsburgh, one of the city's music critics suggested to us that the Dvorak Quartet might make an excellent addition to our repertory. He thought that since the saxophone quartet was so 'American', it would be a good pairing. Since I have loved this work for years, I did not hesitate. -S.R.