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Dvorák and Thomas

A newly released enhanced edition of David Finckel's 2003 Cello Classics CD, with superlative audio remastering by engineer Da-Hong Seetoo alongside new liner notes and artwork. 

Antonín Dvorák
Cello Concerto

Augusta Read Thomas
Ritual Incantations



David Finckel (cello), Taipei Symphony Orchestra, Felix Chiu-Sen Chen (conductor)


Notes on the Music:

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (1894-95)

During the three years that Dvořák was teaching at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, he was subject to the same emotions as most other travelers away from home for a long time: invigoration and homesickness. America served to stir his creative energies, and during his stay from 1892 to 1895 he composed some of his greatest scores: the New World Symphony, the Opus 96 Quartet (American), and the Cello Concerto. He was keenly aware of the new musical experiences to be discovered in this land far from his beloved Bohemia when he wrote, “The musician must prick up his ears for music. When he walks he should listen to every whistling boy, every street singer or organ grinder. I myself am often so fascinated by these people that I can scarcely tear myself away.” But he missed his home and, while he was composing the Cello Concerto, looked eagerly forward to returning. He opened his heart in a letter to a friend in Prague: “Now I am finishing the finale of the Cello Concerto. If I could work as free from cares as at Vysoká [site of his country home], it would have been finished long ago. Oh, if only I were in Vysoká again!” 

The opening movement is in sonata form, with both themes presented by the orchestra before the entry of the soloist. The first theme is heard immediately in the clarinets. “One of the most beautiful melodies ever composed for the horn” is how the esteemed English musicologist Sir Donald Tovey described the major-key second theme. 

Otakar Šourek, the composer’s biographer, described the second movement as a “hymn of deepest spirituality and amazing beauty.” It is in three-part form (A–B–A). A touching bit of autobiography is attached to the composition of this movement. While working on its middle section, Dvořák learned that his sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzová, who had aroused in him a secret passion early in his life, was seriously ill. He showed his concern by using one of her favorite pieces in the central portion of this Adagio—his own song Let Me Wander Alone with My Dreams, op. 82, no. 1. She died a month after he returned to Prague in April 1895, so he revised the finale to include another reference to the same song to produce the autumnal slow section just before the end of the work.’

The finale is a rondo of a dance-like nature. Following the second reprise of the theme, the Andante section recalls both the first theme of the opening movement and Josefina’s melody from the second. A brief and rousing restatement of the rondo theme led by the brass closes this majestic concerto.

– Note by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Augusta Read Thomas
Ritual Incantations (1999)

Augusta Read Thomas is known as a passionate and highly original voice among American composers. Her influences come not only from the world of music (Bach, Berio, Boulez, Byrd, Debussy, Knussen, Mahler, Messiaen, Varèse, and Webern among them) but also from literature, especially poetry. In a November 2001 essay, musicologist Seth Brodsky argues that the poetic idea of image offers insight into Thomas’s compositional art. Various images—the sun, light, the voice, song, bells, stars—run through Thomas’s works. In the case of Ritual Incantations, for example, the score gives directions to the orchestra, the soloist, and the conductor such as “Majestic; driving and persistent; cantabile – Mysterious and expansive; longing; yearning – Spirited; passionate; bold and lyrical,” all of which reflect the images that define the spiritual world that Thomas seeks to convey in her music. 

A Note from the Composer

Music of all kinds constantly amazes, surprises, propels, and seduces me into a wonderful and powerful journey. I am happiest when I am listening to music and in the process of composing music. I care deeply that music is not anonymous and generic or easily assimilated and just as easily dismissed. I would say that Ritual Incantations has urgent, seductive, and compelling qualities of sometimes complex but always logical thought, allied to sensuous and engaging sonic profiles. 

Throughout the fourteen minutes of this work, the solo cello is featured, at times with impassioned cadenza passages, at times with more reflective materials. In all cases, the cello sings long, generous, and earnest cantabile lines. The cello (along with its concertino group made up of solo flute, solo oboe, and solo violin that is seated at the front of the orchestra) instigates and generates all the musical discourse. 

Commissioned by Thomas van Straaten for the Aspen Music Festival and School on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, Ritual Incantations was premiered by the Aspen Music Festival Chamber Orchestra with David Finckel as cellist and Hugh Wolff conducting on July 16, 1999. The score is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to the Aspen Music Festival. 

My music must be passionate, involving risk and adventure such that any given musical moment may seem surprising when first heard but, a millisecond later, seems inevitable. I think of my music as nuanced lyricism under pressure! That said, my primary artistic concern is to communicate in an honest and passionate voice, being faithful to my deepest inner promptings and creative urges. This way, any willing listener, irrespective of prior musical knowledge, training, or background, can engage with my music. Every listener brings their own unique perspective to the listening process. In Ritual Incantations, I offer them aesthetic engagements with the world and with themselves as I, too, undertake a mission of self-discovery. 

My favorite moment in any piece of music is that of maximum risk and striving, whether the venture is tiny or large, loud or soft, fragile or strong, passionate, erratic, or eccentric—the moment of exquisite humanity and raw soul! All art that I cherish has elements of order, mystery, love, recklessness, and desperation. For me, music must be alive and jump off the page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake. 

This artistic credo leads me to examine small musical objects (a chord, a motive, a rhythm, a color) and explore them from many perspectives. These different perspectives reveal new musical potentials, thus developing the musical discourse. In this manner, and in Ritual Incantations in particular, the music takes on an organic, circular, self-referential character which, at the same time, has a forward progression.