The Beaufort Symphony Orchestra will open its 2013-14 season with performances Oct. 10 and Oct. 13 at University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts with "The Last Word" of composers Franz Joseph Haydn and Antonin Dvorak. Written some 100 years apart, their last symphonies are among the most celebrated by musicians and music lovers alike.
Haydn's Symphony No. 104, known as "The London Symphony," was composed in Vienna in 1795 following a stay in London during which he composed the first six of the 12 "London" series. Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, known as "The New World Symphony," was composed in 1893 while he was living in America.
Often called "the father of the symphony," Haydn was one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the classical period and a close friend of Mozart's and a teacher of Beethoven. Aristocratic patronage was crucial to the career of a composer and in his adult life Haydn, a native of Austria, was supported by his patron, Prince Nicolaus. By the time the prince died in 1790, Haydn was famous and financially secure, but the lure of the London commission a few years later was too attractive to turn down. And a good thing too, because otherwise he would not have written this last symphony that had its debut at the King's Theatre in London in 1795 to the audience's resounding approval.
This 12th symphony was the main event -- the finale -- of his farewell concert that night and everything about it projects the feeling of a "statement." He was a master of the unexpected, and this work does not disappoint. Alternating between grand proclamation and poignant pathos, it is also cheerful and in good humor with a sense of uplifting celebration -- a mature work of genius.
Dvorak composed "New World Symphony," his best-known work and last symphonic composition, in 1893. He was a year into his three-year residence in New York as director of the National Conservatory of Music in America, and missed his homeland of Bohemia very much. With all the forces of a 19th century orchestra, this symphony travels the spectrum of emotions, from profound sorrow, loneliness and despondence to exultation, exhilaration and hope. Its simple but elegant melodies were influenced not only by the folk music of his native country but also by the Native American and Afro-American music he discovered in America. Of particular note is the New World's Second Movement, "Largo," the theme from which a pupil of Dvorak's later adapted the spiritual-like song, "Goin' Home."
The first movement, "Adagio," evokes the feeling of being carried far away from a familiar place with sadness, fear, suspense and then hope. And it is this emotional reaction to the music that well could have appealed to astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969 when he took a recording of it with him on the Apollo 11 mission, the first manned landing on the moon. At the symphony's Carnegie Hall premiere in 1893, the audience was so enthralled with the music they cheered their approval at the end of each movement -- so much so that Dvorak felt obliged to stand up and take a bow each time.