About the program
The publication of the first series of Slavonic dances in 1878 brought international acclaim for the composer, who was already popular in his homeland at that time. The Slavonic dances with their variety, overwhelming joy of life and exotic character absolutely fascinated critics. After seeing the piano version for four hands, Simrock, a music publishing house in Berlin, commissioned Dvořák to compose another cycle. Simrock suggested the title Slavonic dances following the example of Brahms’ Hungarian dances. The instrumental dances started their worldwide career that year, casting a spell on audiences in London and Boston after Prague.
Dvořák’s only piano concerto shared the fate of Cinderella. In contrast to the outstanding composers of the 19th century, who were also recognised as concert pianists, Dvořák only performed at chamber music concerts. As opposed to his cello and violin concerto, the piano concerto has rarely been played in concert venues. Several attempts were made to “save” it, two outstanding Czech pianists, Vilém Kurz, and later Rudolf Firkušný retouched it to emphasise the piano part, in an effort to promote the piece. It was Sviatoslav Richter who rehabilitated and made the original version popular, and today it has started to take its well-deserved place in concert halls.
Dvořák composed Legends in 1881. The composer dedicated the series, originally intended to be a piano piece for four hands, to Eduard Hanslick, a friend of Dvořák and Brahms. Hanslick was the most influential music critic in Vienna, born in Prague. Dvořák composed the cycle after encouragement from Simrock. It was a safe bet for the publisher, who hit the jackpot by publishing Slavonic dances.
Symphony No. 8
Dvořák started to compose his Symphony No. 8 in August 1889 in his beloved apartment in the countryside in Vysoka, in a stable financial position and using all of his creative talent. It took him only two-and-a-half weeks to complete the sketches and the piece was completed by 8 November. The premiere in February 1890 was conducted by the composer himself. It was Symphony No. 8 that he conducted in 1891 in Cambridge when receiving the honorary doctoral title of this prestigious university.
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Garrick Ohlsson, piano
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