Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Monday, June 3

Dvorak's "The Water Goblin"

Synopsis

In the late 19th Century, there were two rival musical camps: one favored “absolute music” like the symphonies, concertos, and chamber music of Brahms; the other the “music of the future,” namely the operas of Wagner and the tone poems of Liszt, works that told dramatic stories in music.

Now, Dvorak’s mentor was Brahms, and Dvorak was famous for his symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. But on today’s date in 1896, at a concert of the Prague Conservatory Orchestra, three TONE POEMS by Dvorak premiered: “The Water Goblin,” “The Noonday Witch,” and “The Golden Spinning Wheel,” all three based on Czech folk legends -- and rather lurid, even gruesome ones at that.

Not surprisingly, the “absolute music” camp was shocked. The Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick lamented: “It is strange that Dvorak now indulges in ugly, unnatural, and ghastly stories which correspond so little to his amiable character and to the true musician that he is. In ‘The Water Goblin’ we are treated to a fiend who cuts off his own child’s head!”

But another Czech composer, Leos Janacek, heard something quite different: “In all the orchestral tone poems that I have known, the ‘direct speech’ of the instruments, if I might describe it thus, has never sounded with such certainty, clarity and truthfulness within the wave of melodies, as it does in ‘The Water Goblin.’”

Music Played in Today's Program

Antonin Dvorak (1841 – 1904) The Water Goblin Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond. Teldec 25254

Additional Information

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