Magazine article Czech Music

The First Edition of Antonin Dvorak's Forgotten Opera

Magazine article Czech Music

The First Edition of Antonin Dvorak's Forgotten Opera

Article excerpt

Antonin Dvorak: Alfred.

Czech Radio and the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, v.v.i., Prague, 2014, 368 pp.

An opera that has been plagued by bad luck. That, in a nutshell, is how we could characterise the fate of Antonin Dvorak's first operatic work, the heroic opera in three Acts Alfred, B 16, to a German text by the dramatist Karl Theodor Korner (1791-1813), in all likelihood composed in 1870. The piece, however, was not performed, and there are no mentions available indicating that Dvorak actually aspired for its being staged - the very opposite seems to be the case, as he did not even include the opera in the lists of his compositions. To all appearances, Dvorak returned to Alfred just once, in 1881, when he revised the opera's overture and gave it the title Tragic Overture. Yet this orchestral piece was not performed during the composer's lifetime either, with its premiere only taking place on 4 January 1905. The opera itself would fall into oblivion for a long time to come, until it was finally staged, with the libretto translated into Czech, in 1938, at the Czech Theatre in Olomouc. More than seven decades would then elapse before Alfred was performed again in its entirety, and with its original German libretto, as a concert version on 17 September 2014, within the Dvorak Prague festival (see also CMQ 2014/3). For that occasion, Czech Radio provided new performance materials, which were produced with the participation of the members of the "Dvorak team" at the Department of Music History of the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences. In terms of performance and edition practice, the case of Alfred, a stage work by one of the major composers of the 19th and 20th centuries being overlooked for such a long time, is truly extraordinary.

One of the outcomes of the aforementioned team's efforts is the publication of the piano reduction of Alfred, which has made the hitherto virtually unattainable music available to musicians and the general public alike. It concerns the first printed volume of the New Dvorak Edition (NDE). In this connection, the question may arise of its not being a critical edition, as the professionals would expect, yet its indisputable benefit rests in the fact that it is the very first edition of this extensive Dvorak work and that the NDE has thus set out on the path whereby the outputs of the vast edition project are utilisable not only at the level of musicology but also in practical performance terms, which has not been commonplace in the case of complete editions in general. …

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