I enjoy any piece of music that not only introduces us as listeners to a story but also goes on to tell it. Such pieces display a variety of emotions which can make our hearts race, break, and soar within the lifespan of the song. In classical music especially, because the pieces are generally longer, it’s easier to lose oneself in a symphony, a suite, or an aria. With eyes closed, it’s almost as if we can see each thing that happens to the characters through the different movement. One of the composers with this talent is Antonin Dvorak. Today, I’ll be sharing 6 of his pieces with you and how they’ve inspired my writing.
The New World Symphony: For anyone who hasn’t heard this piece, I suggest you open up a window of about 45 minutes for yourself, find a comfy chair, a good book to read, and a nice cup of tea to sip at… because this piece is pretty long. To me, this piece tells an entire story. Because it is titled “New World”, I relate a background story of settlers coming to America in it and enduring their first autumn and winter, as well as any and all of their relationships with the Native Americans. The focus is on one family in particular, a newly married couple who have built their first house on this new soil. The music has a combination of action and romance to it as well as quieter more melancholy sounding selections, which make it perfect as a suite for this New World couple and their struggles. My favorite part of this piece begins at around 17:08. It’s as if having endured the long and brutal winter, they see the first signs of spring, the sun breaks the cloud barrier and the icy depression that’s settled over the household suddenly seems to lift.
Tempo di valse (Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op 22): Here we make a jump to a higher class and more elegant scene, specifically a Victorian era ball in which our story plays itself out. Several wealthy families are in attendance among the gaggle of other people there. One of these such families has a very prestigious name. They own several estates, and wield the favor of society as a weapon. They have a daughter who is rather spoiled, and puts out thorns towards most suitors despite her secret desire to have friends and be loved. She’s eager for companionship but fiercely loyal toward her family and their place in society. Also at the party is a handsome soldier of about her age. He’s come from a more humble background, and is used to working in order to achieve greater things. He’s at the party at the behest of friends of his who have some social standing. However, his own family has a tarnished background and as a general rule, most go out of their way to avoid him. He and the daughter meet in a waltz and quickly strike up a terse albeit friendly relationship. This, begins their story. (Just in case you were wondering, yes, this one of my writing projects.)
Humoresque: This connects with “Tempo di valse”. For some reason when I hear this melody, I get the image of a very elaborate garden party. All of the flowers are in bloom and it’s an unseasonably warm spring day. There are people touring the gardens. Our spoiled daughter has come to view the gardens. As she wanders the crushed pebble paths, she thinks back on that ball she attended and the strange young man she met while dancing. She’s curious about him and curious about his family’s past transgressions. She takes a turn and is astonished to find the very subject of her thoughts admiring a white rose bush further down the path. He takes note of her. And unsupervised, they tour the rest of the gardens together, growing closer despite her sometimes acidic tongue and his proud self-defense.
Romance for Piano and Violin, Op 11: The beginning of this piece sounds as though it’s a music box melody. Continuing on from the story in previous songs, the spoiled daughter regards a music box she received from her soldier admirer and notices initials carved in the roof of the box, no doubt another woman’s. She begins to suspect that she wasn’t the first to receive this music box and therefore, worries about the past loves of the soldier. She wonders if she’ll get her heart broken. The next time she sees him, she purposefully ignores him and makes mean remarks regarding his family’s honor. He’s noticeably hurt. And after he leaves, she discovers she’s fallen back into her pattern of pushing away anyone who tries to get close.
The Bells of Zlonice (Symphony No. 1 in C Minor): (If you thought “The New World Symphony was long, then you might want to make yourself another cup of tea. This one is close to an hour long.) War ignites. The soldier is called off to battle. Before he leaves, he writes our young heroine a letter pledging his fidelity and trying to make amends for whatever he’s done by divulging his family’s past. The daughter reads the letter and is overcome with remorse for her treatment of him as well as worry for what will happen to him in the upcoming war. It’s too late for her to apologize though. And as the hours, days, and weeks pass, she spends her time pacing the halls of the great estate, attending parties she doesn’t care about, and writing letters to him that go unanswered. We pan to the battlefield to discover that our hero hasn’t been receiving any of these letters. Instead, someone in a different regiment with a similar name has. When this different soldier dies, and our heroine finally receives a letter informing her of it, tragedy strikes. (… I leave this story on a cliffhanger! I’ll write the whole thing eventually! *snickering evilly*)
Slavonic Dance in E minor, Op. 46, No. 2: (arranged by Fritz Kreisler) I received a CD of Kreisler’s music for my high school graduation years ago. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with his arrangements of Dvorak’s music. This is one of my personal favorites. My favorite part doesn’t start until about a minute and twenty seconds in. The violin portrays a very self-confident individual who is looking to make his mark on the world. He’s arrived in a new place from afar and unfamiliar with the territory or the people in this city, he’s investigating all of the different shops and locales. Very few know that he’s running from something he did in another city, something of which he’s likely to be punished for by death. He introduces himself only as a doctor. Nothing more and nothing less. He slowly builds a relationship with the townspeople and they begin to open up to him. And in doing so, he begins to feel more and more regret for the things he did. When those past actions catch up with him, he needs to make a decision to keep fleeing or to turn around and take the punishment he deserves.
Next week on Inspiration Through Music, I’ll be pulling selections from the soundtrack to an under-rated indie game “Dear Esther”. The soundtrack was composed by the immensely talented Jessica Curry, and is something that definitely shouldn’t be ignored! Stay tuned!