29 Jun 2023

DVOŘÁK: Nocturne for String Orchestra

by Jeff Counts

Artists who do not consign their secrets to the fire are doomed to have them resurrected by heirs or well-intentioned executors. The attic is no place for abandoned projects, it turns out, not if you are famous enough. Dvorak, ever practical, saved many of his orphans himself, but not for posterity. He wanted to be responsible for their new lives if he could and sought ways to repurpose some of them into fresh works. One such piece was an E-minor string quartet from 1870 that, for all its flaws, had a lovely slow movement that Dvorak just couldn’t give up on. The quartet was never published during his lifetime, but it came to light later in 1960 (See what I mean?!). In 1875, the Andante religioso movement found a new, if temporary, home as part of the G Major String Quintet. That idea didn’t stick either, however, and it wasn’t until 1883 that Dvorak set aside the idea of placing this music into a muti-movement context and presented it instead as a stand-alone piece for string orchestra. The Nocturne is a hypnotic, nearly static hymn that lazily uncoils itself over the course of its brief minutes and, though clearly the effort of idealistic young man, it is every inch a thing worth saving. Dvorak conducted the premiere in London on March 22, 1885, and subsequently arranged it for solo violin and piano and again for piano four hands. Both are quite nice, but they can’t compete with the original, full ensemble version.       

Antonín Dvořák
Antonín Dvořák