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Dvorák returned to Bohemia from his last American visit in April 1895 and for the rest of his life divided his time between Prague and his small property at Vysoká, making occasional trips abroad to conduct or attend performances of his music. Aged at this time fifty-three, he was internationally famous and in a position to write more or less what he wanted. Between the spring of 1893 and the end of 1895 he had completed some of his finest instrumental works – the Ninth Symphony (‘From the New World’), the Cello Concerto and three string quartets – but he now seems to have made a conscious decision to turn away from ‘pure’ instrumental music. An intensely patriotic man, he was always anxious to be appreciated as a Czech artist, and in the last decade of his life concentrated on giving musical expression to subjects that were both national and dramatic. His real ambition was to write a successful national opera to stand alongside the works of Smetana: Rusalka, composed in 1900, broadly realised this aim.
Perhaps it was as a half-way step towards the stage that in January 1896 he began to compose, almost simultaneously, three symphonic poems: The Water Goblin, The Noonday Witch and The Golden Spinning-Wheel. The first was finished within five weeks, on 11 February; the other two by the end of February and March respectively. They were given a run-through at the Prague Conservatoire on 3 June, and first performed in London in October and November. A fourth in the series, The Wood Dove, followed that autumn.
These works, which Dvo? rák entitled ‘orchestral ballads’, are based on poems by Karel Jaromír Erben (1811–1870), official archivist of the city of Prague. Although he devoted only a small part of his life to original writing, he made a large collection of folk songs, first published in 1841. His original work is almost all contained in one small volume, Kytice z pov? estí národních (A Garland of Folk Poetry, 1853), a collection of twelve ballads, one of which had already provided Dvorák with the text of his large-scale cantata The Spectre’s Bride (1885). These ballads are too sophisticated to be considered direct imitations of folk poetry, but Erben drew heavily on his country’s folk traditions for their narrative poetic form and and their dramatic, symbolic and psychological possibilities.
|Dvorak: The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109, B. 197: I. Allegro, ma non troppo|
|Dvorak: The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109, B. 197: II. Molto vivace|
|Dvorak: The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109, B. 197: III. Lento|
|Dvorak: The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109, B. 197: IV. Allegro, ma non troppo|
|Dvorak: The Wood Dove, Op. 110, B. 198: I. Andante, Marcia funebre|
|Dvorak: The Wood Dove, Op. 110, B. 198: II. Allegro|
|Dvorak: The Wood Dove, Op.110, B. 198: III. Molto vivace|
|Dvorak: The Wood Dove, Op. 110, B. 198: IV. Andante|
|Dvorak: The Noon Witch, Op.108, B. 196: I. Allegretto|
|Dvorak: The Noon Witch, Op. 108, B. 196: II. Andante sostenuto e molto tranquillo|
|Dvorak: The Noon Witch, Op. 108, B. 196: III. Andante|
|Dvorak: The Water Goblin, Op. 107, B. 105: I. Allegro vivo|
|Dvorak: The Water Goblin, Op. 107, B. 195: II. Andante mesto come prima|
|Dvorak: The Water Goblin, Op. 107, B. 195: III. Un poco piu mosso|
|Dvorak: The Water Goblin, Op. 107, B. 195: IV. Allegro vivace (Fig 24)|