note: for corrupted water goblin files (haha), hear
Saturday, January 9, 2010
antonin dvorak | symphonic poems
in these marvelous works, dvorak takes the symphonic form up over the turrets and spires of a very curious side of the classical-romantic ideal — its monster mania! ha, yes, this may be the pinnacle of the monsterly in classical music. all written in 1896, toward the end of the composer's career, the symphonic poems take off from the poetry of karl jaromir erben, dvorak's elder countryman. the stories told in them are nasty, twisted things, the kinds of creepshows first popularized back in ancient times... when humans had only each other to fear! okay, maybe there was a lot of other stuff to be afraid of — crop failure, pestilence, bears, etc — but perhaps the point is that the fears were more strictly reserved to the organic. anyway if you want to know the stories, allmusic sums each one up rather briefly, and the cd liner notes offer a bit more detail as well. but suffice it to say here that the stories are all gruesome, shocking, and that they play on wide range of deep fears, from the homo erectus type to the homo sapiens sapiens type. BUT! the most shocking thing of all is that each tone poem is absolutely delightful, even during the scenes of kidnapping and murder. these stories, they don't really matter in themselves. they're mere vehicles for this ideal of the monstrous. the origin of this ideal? well, to my very limited knowledge on the subject, this may be the first such self-stated examination of the monsterly in the symphonic form, but beethoven most certainly put the concept into germination, whether he meant to or not, with his symphonic works. departing from mozart's palatial symphonies, beethoven's works in the genre gestured toward the untamed expanses beyond human dominion. in their scope, the solitary human is just a mote of dust; though he always gets his happy endings (not afforded to the characters in these tone poems), these are often arrived at through "jacob and the angel" kinds of feats in the night; the mote of dust must transcend all. on through the 19th century and the adversaries grow more demonic, their affronts more heinous, until hey look, it's dvorak's symphonic poems and there's a goblin beheading a rape-baby. harnoncourt and the concertgebouw orchestra kick ass all over this one; so if you like your classical vaguely ethnic and full of cymbal-crashing climaxes and you can stomach the old-timey nightmares, i think you'll find something really special here. fun fact: among the conductors who gave premieres of these works were janacek and mahler! hear (and hear).