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Czech Suite, op. 39

Antonín Dvořák
Length: 23'
Preludium (Pastorale) - Allegro moderato
Polka - Allegretto grazioso
Sousedská (Minuetto) - Allegro giusto
Romance (Romanza) - Andante con moto
Finale (Furiant) - Presto

Antonín Dvorák composed this music in 1879 (during April, it is believed); Adolf Cech conducted the premiere on May 16 of that year, in Prague.

When Johannes Brahms recommended Dvorák's work to his own Berlin publisher, Simrock concurred, thereby initiating a selective association in 1879 that included only some of the pieces Brahms had mentioned. First, though, Simrock commissioned and published the initial set of Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, for piano four-hands and for orchestra, too. While these made Dvorák quickly famous, he became unhappy with several Simrock business practices: He protested the Germanizing of his first name as "Anton," in vain. He was embarrassed by high opus numbers given to early works, implying they were new. The biggest bone of contention, however, was Simrock's stinginess, coupled with a first right of refusal for all future works. This accounts for the Czech Suite's low opus number, although it was composed after the first set of Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, and the three Slavonic Rhapsodies, Op. 45. John Warrack has written that "[Dvorák] was evading an agreement for future works by pretending that this was an old one." Ironically, Simrock published it, but not until 1881. Even more ironically, it was destined to become a Cinderella among Dvorák's orchestral works.

All of the movements are dance-based, even the opening Praeludium in D, additionally marked Pastorale; Allegro moderato, which evokes indigenous bagpipes (dudy in Czech; Dudelsack in German) that Svanda played incomparably in Jaromír Weinberger's subsequent opera of that name. While Warrack found a "suggestion of a polka under the oboe melody," a full-scale polka follows ebulliently in F major (Allegretto grazioso; 2/4). The central movement in the piece has a double designation: both Sousedská (a Bohemian version of the waltz, here in B flat major) and Minuetto, with a tempo marking of Allegro giusto, although Warrack remarked that "it is not really either so much as a Mazurka, the strong accent falling on the second beat in each bar." A slow movement follows in G major, a 9/8 Romanza to be played Andante con moto, with a colloquy for flute and English horn. A melody from this returns during the course of a superb concluding Furiant in F major, marked Presto (in 3/4 time, characterized by cross-rhythms). There's even a genuine folk song quoted, although Dvorák preferred to compose delectable counterfeits -- a movement in any event that begs to be encored.