Home | About ARSIS | New Releases | Best Sellers | Catalog | ARSIS News | Order
A Premier Catalog of Premiere Recordings


CD120   DvorÁk & Shostakovich



Dvorák: Moravian Duets, Op.32
Shostakovich: From Jewish Folk Poetry, Op.79

Denise Konicek, soprano
Kamala Soparkar, mezzo-soprano
Yeghishe Manucharyan, tenor
Deborah Boling, pianist

  • Notes by Denise Konicek
  • Complete texts and translations
  • 56'48" total playing time

CD120      $15.95

Purchase from Canticle Distributing


Antonin Dvorák: Moravian Duets, Opus 32
Tracks 1 - 13

Dmitri Shostakovich: From Jewish Folk Poetry, Opus 79
Tracks 14-24

Listen Listen:

"Winter” from Jewish Folk Poetry, opus 79, by Shostakovich


Sunshine and Shadow

"Sunshine and shadow" - an analogy for the contrasting moods between the Dvorák Moravian Duets and the Shostakovich cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry. The song cycles are linked in their common themes of folk texts set to art songs. Both composers were well-versed in the ethnic musical styles represented. The two works are of approximately the same length. A compelling energy suffuses each of the compositions. Here the similarities end.

Dvorák's Moravian Duets celebrate the composer's ethnic heritage and illuminate the daily joys and sorrows of small-town life in Czechoslovakia in a time of peace. The duets were an enormous and immediate success, helping to launch Dvorák's international career and making him a hero in the eyes of his countrymen. The cycle was a favorite of musical soirees and concerts for many decades. Their publication solidified the lifelong professional relationship between Dvorák and Johannes Brahms, who was an important mentor and champion of Dvorák's works.

The texts in Shostakovich's cycle deal with hardships, death, and anti-Semitism, and were composed in the midst of an attempted extermination of Jewish culture by the Stalin regime. There is doubt surrounding the circumstances of the last three songs. Not performed publicly until many years after its completion, the cycle was always a risky venture for the composer and never received wide exposure during his lifetime. Even the later, orchestral version was seldom performed prior to a recent Shostakovich commemorative year.

So how do two related but disparate works play as a pairing? "Dazzling Dvorák,...superb Shostakovich,...a model of stimulating programming..." raved the Boston Globe in 1995 upon hearing the ensemble perform these two cycles. We believe that the Moravian Duets and the cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry will not only give you listening enjoyment, but plenty of food for thought. Enjoy.

Moravian Duets, Opus 32 by Antonin Dvorák
Antonin Dvorák was working as music teacher and accompanist to the Neff family in Prague in the early 1870s. Mr. Neff presented Dvorák with an old book of Moravian folk songs, encouraging him to devise vocal/instrumental arrangements for the traditional tunes. Dvorák elected instead to create his own melodies for some of the poems.

The title Moravian Duets actually encompasses several sets of vocal duets composed by Dvorák from the Neff book and other sources between 1875 and 1877. The most well-known group has come to be known as opus 32, although the first five are more properly known as opus 29, and the last piece of the original opus 32 (The soldier's farewell) is not included in the published set of 13 pieces.

In 1877 Dvorák submitted the combined opuses 29 and 32 fro two voices and piano for an Austrian composers' competition and was awarded 600 florins. For the occasion, Mr. Neff helped pay for several bound copies of the duets, and Dvorák dedicated the set to Mr. Neff and his wife. Johannes Brahms was a member of the judging committee and had recommended an award for Dvorák in 1875 and 1876 as well. Both the committee chair, Eduard Hanslick, and Brahms were extremely taken with the Moravian Duets, and on Hanslick's recommendation Dvorák wrote to Brahms to ask if publication could be arranged.

Brahms wrote an extremely complimentary letter introducing the pieces to Fritz Simrock, his music publisher:

Dear S.-
For several years past, in awarding the Austrian State Prize, I have been delighted with the pieces by Anton Dvorák of Prague. This year he submits a Cycle of Ten 'Duets for Two Sopranos with Pianoforte' [sic - in actuality for soprano and alto] that seem to me so perfectly charming they should be a practical publishing venture... When you play them through you will be as delighted with them as I am, and as a publisher you will be particularly pleased with their piquant originality...[H]e is a very talented man... These Duets will tell you everything [you need to know about his accomplishments], and they should be a good 'selling article.'

(Stefan, pp.77-78)

Brahms had noted to Simrock that Dvorák was very poor, and had suggested to Dvorák in a separate letter that he sell his pieces to the publisher - nevertheless Dvorák received no payment for the duets from Simrock. The Moravian Duets were so popular they went through several printings and the publisher made an enormous profit from them. Dvorák, grateful that he had a publisher with worldwide distribution, never complained about this. (Schoenzeler, p. 70)

He did complain loud and long about Simrock's initial decision to publish the song titles only in German. An ardent nationalist, Dvorák agreed to have the Moravian Duets published with a German translation, but also insisted on the texts being published in the original Czech dialect of Moravian. Several years after the initial publication, Simrock finally agreed to publish song titles as well in Moravian. In 1885, seven years after the Duets were published, Dvorák noted in a letter to Simrock that Czech titles were still an issue, even though other French and English music publishers had easily agreed with this request. (Schoenzeler, p. 71) Certainly Dvorák's preference was that the Duets be performed in their original language.

Dvorák References
Antonin Dvorák, Paul Stefan, trans. Y.W. Vance, Greystone Press, New York, 1941
Dvorák, Hans-Hubert Schoenzeler, Marion Boyars Publisher, New York, 1984
Dvorák and His World, ed.Michael Beckerman, Princeton University Press, 1993
New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1980 edition

From Jewish Folk Poetry, Opus 79 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Evidence of Dmitri Shostakovich's interest in Jewish musical idioms dates back to the early 1940s. He was not himself Jewsih but was tremendously attracted to the energy and modality of the style now known as Klezmer. By 1944, he had begun incorporating this style into selected major works. The composer noted:

Jewish folk music is close to my ideas of what music should be. There should always be two layers in music. Jews were tormented for so long and they learned to hide their despair. They express despair in dance music.
(Volkov, p. 156)

The Shostakovich cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry, opus 79, was composed in 1948 during a time of escalating, government sanctioned anti-Semitism in Russia. Though there is no specific dedication, it is likely that Shostakovich conceived of the cycle as a personal tribute to his Jewish friends and a means to protest their persecution.

Several of Shostakovich's Jewish acquaintances had been hounded and/or arrested by the Stalin regime in late 1947. In January 1948 the great Russian Jewish actor Salomon Mikhoels was killed on Stalin's orders. Salomon's daughter Natalia Mikhoels was a close friend of the composer. Shostakovich began work on the cycle shortly afterward, consulting with Natalia in May 1948 about text pronunciation and folk rhythms. The songs were first performed privately in Shostakovich's own home as part of his birthday celebration on September 25, 1948, in their original version for three voices and piano. Natalia was one of the guests of honor (Braun, pp. 260-261). They were not performed publicly until 1955, two years after Stalin's death, and were recorded the same year with the composer at the piano.

Fifteen years after completion of From Jewish Folk Poetry there was renewed anti-Semtisim in Russia. Arrests, deportations and official harassment were again commonplace. Notably, Shostakovich chose this particular time (1963) to arrange for the first performance of an orchestral version of the cycle. He was clearly aware of the political significance of this timing in each case (Braun, p. 264).

Shostakovich selected all but one of the eleven song texts from Dobrushin and Yudisky's Russian edition of Jewish Folk Songs, an anthology he had discovered while browsing a newsstand. Much has been written about his choice of poems. Soviet musicologists felt there wa a natural progression representing birth to old age, or possibly poverty to happiness. Joachim Braun challenged these interpretations in his research, offering the following observations:

Let us turn our attention to the division of the song cycle into tragic songs [1-8] and songs that affirm happiness [9-11]...[This proportion] directly contradicts the explcit dictate of Socialist Realism that "the victorious...heroic, bright and beautiful" should be the focus of attention... The three "happy" songs, clumped together at the end of the cycle, obviously stand apart from the main body of the work. The subjext matter changes abruptly from texts about poverty and misery to texts inflated with optimism... Nearly every song of the cycle exploits...certain half-hidden meanings...An implicit reference to the millions exiled to Siberia by the Soviet regime is obvious in the third song...[which] also relates to the the fourth song, with its recurrent, desperate outcry, "Oy, Abram how shall I live without you?... How shall we live apart?"...[this] is clearly a consequence of the Siberian banishment in the third song. The theme of religious conversion in the sixth song was widely construed by the Jewish audience [at the first performance]...as a warning about the possible loss of ethnic identity and the danger of assimilation.

The three "happiness" songs may well have been forcibly included in the original collection [of Dobushin and Yuditsky's publication]... The idiomatic wording of the Russian translation in the tenth song certainly suggests the presence of coercion [the literal translation implies that the speaker's flute cannot "hear" how happy life is and wants to play "weeping" music: the speaker tells the flute "you have to sing more gaily"]... [The text] is more an argumentum baculinum [forced argument] than an overwhelming afflux of happiness. The concluding verse of the cycle, with its reference to "doctors" (implicitly Jewish ones at that) and to a "star" on the head of the shoemaker's wife...[recalled] the "Doctor's Plot" of Stalin's last days and the "yellow stars" of Nazi Germany... [T]hese lines struck such a vein of accumulated greivance and fear that the effect could hardly be concealed. An eyewitness to the first performance relates: "A shivering, half-giggle, half-shudder swept thropugh the [mostly Jewish] audience." (Braun, pp. 266-269)

Braun notes that Shostakovich's Collected Works in the central State Archive of Literature and Art of the USSR lists the composition date of the first eight songs as August 1948 and of the last three songs as October 1948. If this is correct, it lends credence to the hypothesis that the composer may have received official "encouragement" to add the final songs to this original cycle. There does not appear to be any conclusive evidence one way or the other, and Shostakovich left no explanation for the work's progression, so we may never know.

--Denise Konicek

Shostakovich References:
Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, related to and edited by Solomon Volkov, 1979, Harper & Row, New York
The Life of Dmitri Shostakovich, Dmitri and Ludmilla Sollertinsky, 1979, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Russian and Soviet Music; Essays for Boris Schwatz, ed. M.H. Brown, 1984, UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, see "Shostakovich's Song Cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry: Aspects of Style and Meaning" Joachim Braun (Israel)