World musicologists discuss aspects of Dvorak's music in Prague


The year 2004 is very special for Czech music. Czechs commemorate the 100th anniversary of death of their most famous composer Antonin Dvorak. Many musical events, not only in the Czech Republic, but also around the world, are featuring his music. Yet Antonin Dvorak's music has not only been played at concerts and festivals, it was also discussed by leading world Dvorak experts at an international conference in Prague last week.

Forty Dvorak scholars from around the world - from Australia to Venezuela - converged on the Czech capital to talk about the work of probably the most famous Czech of all time. The conference was open to all comers, says Jarmila Gabrielova, its main organizer.

"There is a free access to the conference; everybody can come and listen, but it is mainly a scholar conference. Whom we address are musicologists, musicians and students of music and musicology."

Jan Smaczny teaches musicology at the Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He specializes in Czech music and Dvorak in particular. Jan Smaczny told me what brought him to the conference.

"There is always the chance that you find something new. I think one of the most encouraging things about this conference is that there are so many young scholars, more than I have seen in Dvorak's conferences before. And it's always good to get their perspective. So to learn something new, to meet colleagues I've known for twenty years, to discuss our own work and to present my work, so they can criticise, give it back to me, you know, say all kind of things about my approach and that sort of things, so it's many things, there are many reasons why one comes to conference like this."

Jan Smaczny says that perceptions of Dvorak's music are evolving and today we perceive it differently from 20 years ago.

"I think that we know more of it, we know more about it. We understand much more about him, and the world in which he worked and I think this helps to everyone to come to appreciation of....- using the word great is not something the musicologists do very much - but understanding his greatness because he is much more rounded figure, I think, for us now then he was twenty years ago."

Jan Smaczny points to the growing popularity of Dvorak in the United Kingdom.

"I would say twenty years ago he was popular for maybe only about three of four compositions, whereas now he is very well known; the operas are getting better known in England, this year there was a very big celebration in London, at the BBC promenade concerts, where they did 'Svatebni kosile', 'Dimitrij'- the opera, and a number of other works that I have really never heard in England. I think all of this has been extremely helpful in actually rounding out the picture of Dvorak for listening audience."

While the Dvorak conference has just ended and its participants have left, enriched by new experiences and different perspectives, his New World Symphony initiated the Prague Autumn Music Festival on Sunday night. This event continues until October 1st and has a number of Dvorak's works on its programme.