Carnival, op. 92, B. 169

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            Antonín Dvořák owed his initial recognition to Johannes Brahms, who singled him out in a composition contest, the prize of which enabled the talented young composer to spend time in Vienna studying composition further.  Dvořák’s music bears some elements of resemblance to that of Brahms, for he wrote stunningly well in the similar genres of string quartets, sonatas, and symphonies.  Unlike Brahms, though, he was a successful opera composer, and his Rusalka is known the world over.  In fact, few of his contemporaries composed successfully in as many different genres as did Dvořák. Americans today, if they think of Czech music at all, it is that of Dvořák. They know little of the incredible musical wealth of Bohemia--from Smetana and Fibich to Ostrčil, Janáček, Hába, and Martinů.  Dvořák is merely “first among equals” in the history of Czech music, and many more of the compositions of “the conservatory of Europe” need to reach our own concert stages.  Carnival was written in 1891 and is a concert overture, that is, it is not part of any opera, but stands alone.  Actually, it is the second of a trilogy of three concert overtures--the others being In Nature’s Realm and Othello--that collectively are called Nature, Life, and Love.  The set is a general comment upon life and the human condition.  Carnival, specifically, is not just a lighthearted depiction of a carnival, as it were, but a commentary upon the pace of life, itself--interrupted by a ominous “death” theme from his own recently composed requiem mass.   Its tuneful melodies, masterful orchestration, and thrilling ending is perfectly characteristic of the composer’s musical style, and redolent of like riches found in his nine symphonies and numerous other orchestral works.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan