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Antonín Dvořák: SLAVONIC DANCES for piano four hands

Antonín Dvořák: SLAVONIC DANCES for piano four hands

About project

The year 1877 was of particular significance in the life and career of Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). The then thirty six year old composer, with four operas, five symphonies, a piano concerto and eight string quartets to his credit, was still a little-known Prague musician whose works were barely known to the wider public; most of his major works were still to be performed. It was with his small-scale, occasional pieces that the musical public of Prague was becoming acquainted. One of those was a vocal cycle, composed in 1876 for private musical soirées of Prague merchant Jan Neff, called Moravian Duets. These charming songs were received enthusiastically by Dvořák´s friends and gave their young author a great deal of encouragement: a year later, in 1877, Dvořák attached the score of Moravian Duets to his application for a state stipend. In Vienna, the work aroused equal admiration – in particular in Johannes Brahms who was sitting in the jury. Brahms recommended it to his ´own´ Berlin publisher, Simrock. And it was Simrock´s edition of the Moravian Duets that founded Dvořák´s fame on an international scale.

Such was the success of Moravian Duets that another commission from Simrock came soon afterwards – this time for a series of dances in Slavonic spirit for piano four hands, in the manner of Brahms´ Hungarian Dances. Dvořák set to work without delay, and between March and May 1878 he finished the first set of his Slavonic Dances, Op.46. These are artful paraphrases of folk dances, in this first set mostly of Bohemian origin. The cycle sets off with an energetic furiant (Presto, in C major), second comes a dance probably inspired by the Ukranian dumka, more lyrical and moderately fast (Allegretto scherzando, in e minor). The third dance is a polka, in its first incarnation inspired by a local variant called ´kucmoch´ or ´klatovák´ (Poco allegro, in A flat major). Fourth in the set is a three-time sousedská (or ´neighbours´ dance´), a so-called folk menuet (Tempo di minuetto, in F major). The fifth dance is a sparkling, vivacious skočná (or ´hopping dance´ - Allegro vivace, in A major), followed by a second version of sousedská (Allegro scherzando, in D major), followed in turn by a second skočná on the theme of the Bohemian folk song ´Tetka, kam jdete?´ (´Where are you off to, grandma?´ - Allegro assai, in c minor). The set concludes with a second furiant (Presto, in g minor).

Dvořák built his dances on a clear three-part structure with a contrasting middle section, yet he managed to avoid a sense of stereotype; it is his inexhaustible source of fresh melodic invention that guarantees each dance its individual character, despite their principally common formal structure.

In the summer of that year Dvořák transcribed the first set of his Slavonic Dances for orchestra. The work was an enormous and immediate success. Financially, it was their publisher, Simrock, who benefited most: he paid Dvořák a one-off fee of 300 Marks while he himself subsequently made millions. Of more significance to Dvořák was his sudden rise to fame.
Simrock was quick to plead with Dvořák for a second set of the dances. Dvořák, however, was reluctant to comply. In one of his replies to Simrock he wrote: “To do the same thing twice is damn difficult. Without the right mood I can´t do a thing. These things can´t be forced…“. Consequently, it wasn´t until eight years later, in 1886, and after finishing his oratorio St. Ludmila, that Dvořák finally got round to starting work on the Second Set of Slavonic Dances, Op.72. This cycle focuses more on dances of other Slav nations. It sets off with a fiery Slovak odzemek (Molto vivace, in B major), followed by a lyrical tableau in the form of a Polish mazur (Allegretto grazioso, in e minor). The inspiration for the third (eleventh) dance comes once again from the Czech skočná (Allegro, in F major), next comes, for the second time, a Ukranian dumka (Allegretto grazioso, in D flat major). It was Dvořák´s recollection of the folk dance ´špacírka´ (or ´promenade dance´) he used to witness during his stays in Vysoké, near Příbram, that inspired the fifth (thirteenth) dance (Poco adagio, in b flat minor). In the sixth (fourteenth) dance can be found echoes of the polonaise (Moderato, quasi minuetto, in B flat major). To conclude the set, Dvořák chose – perhaps surprisingly but immensely convincingly – a slow dance of especial depth and lyrical warmth; at its heart lies once again the Bohemian sousedská (Lento grazioso, quasi tempo di valse, in A flat major).

Soon afterwards, in the winter of 1886, Dvořák finished his orchestration of the Second Set of Slavonic Dances. Compared to the First Set, it is more lyrical and melancholic in character, and certainly of more emotional depth. The spontaneous flight of fancy of the first set is here refined by the more advanced compositional mastery of their author. Both sets thus ideally complement each other.

The Slavonic Dances are far more often performed in their orchestral version, despite having been originally written for a piano duet. At the time of their origin they were intended for private or at best semi-public performance, in a salon or in the home. This domestic form of music-making began to decline rapidly at the turn of the century, due to, among other things, the advance of the gramophone industry. Music performance had moved to a much larger extent to the domain of the professional concert hall. The piano duet format, on the other hand, could not sustain its former position and rebuild a tradition of performance on the modern concert stage; as a result, opportunities for performing works for piano four hands have declined substantially. This is reflected in the range of recordings of the Slavonic Dances: while the market is literally saturated with versions of the orchestral sets, recordings of the original are relatively rare. This of course leaves scope for new projects, one such being the present live recording of a complete performance of both sets by Ivan and Lukáš Klánský, given at a concert in Prague´s Rudolfinum on 2nd November 2013 as part of the Year of Czech Music.

Ivan Klánský (b.1948) is among the most sought-after Czech pianists of the day. He started his career while studying at the Prague Conservatoire as a pupil of Valentina Kameníková with a series of victories and prizes at a number of international competitions. He then continued his studies at the Prague Academy with František Rauch.

He has built an immensely succesful international career as a soloist as well as being a member of the renowned Guarneri Trio Prague. His wide-ranging interests make him a favourite partner of many Czech and international instrumentalists and chamber ensembles. His broad repertoire encompasses virtually the whole of the core piano literature. He is a frequent soloist with the Czech Philharmonic, having toured with the orchestra in many European countries as well as in the United States. Amongst his many recordings a special mention should be made of his complete survey of the piano works of Bedřich Smetana.

Ivan Klánský has over the years sat on the juries of many piano competions, while his work as a teacher – currently he is head of the keyboard department of the Prague Academy – forms an integral part of his career.

Amongst the pupils of Ivan Klánský is his son Lukáš. Together they have performed a number of works for 2 pianos and orchestra as well as for piano duet – by Mozart, Saint-Saëns and Fauré among others; one of their notable successes has been their interpretation of the complete Slavonic Dances of Antonín Dvořák, given on many occasions at concerts both at home and abroad.


Lukáš Klánský (b.1989) made his first appearance on concert stage and in competition at the age of eight. He graduated from the Prague Conservatoire with a performance of Chopin´s F minor piano concerto at Prague´s Rudolfinum. Currently he is a pupil of his father´s at the Prague Academy. Over the last few years he has won a number of domestic and international competitions - Karl Drechsel Fördepreise, Beethoven Competition in Hradec Králové, both in 2007, International Rotary Piano Competition in 2012; his latest success was a prize at the Chopin Competition in Darmstadt in October 2013.

Lukáš Klánský has given numerous recitals and chamber music concerts both in the Czech Republic and abroad, and has made his debut recording of works by J.S. Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. In 2012 he made a recording with the Pražák Quartet of Glinka´s piano sextet for Praga Digitals. He has performed at a number of festivals, including the Prague Spring and Concentus Moraviae, and has given a Chopin recital in the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Series.

Lukáš has won admiration not just from his fellow musicians, but from the wider music-loving public both at home and abroad, and is rightly considered the outstanding new talent of the upcoming generation of Czech pianists.


Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

SLAVONIC DANCES
for piano four hands


First Set, Op.46

Presto C major
Allegretto scherzando e minor
Poco allegro A flat major
Tempo di menueto F major
Allegro vivace A major
Allegretto scherzando D major
Allegro assai c minor
Presto g minor

Second Set, 0p.72

Molto vivace B major
Allegretto grazioso e minor
Allegro F major
Allegretto grazioso D flat major
Poco adagio b flat minor
Moderato, quasi Minuetto B major
Allegro vivace C major
Grazioso e lento, ma non troppo, quasi tempo di Valse A flat major

Ivan Klánský and Lukáš Klánský - piano



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