Piano Trio No.4 in E minor Op.90 ‘Dumky’

Composer: Antonin Dvořák (b. 1841 - d. 1904)
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Composer: Antonin Dvořák (b. 1841 - d. 1904)

Performance date: 28/06/2022

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1891

Duration: 00:33:51

Recording Engineer: Simon Cullen, Ergodos

Instrumentation: vn, vc, pf

Instrumentation Category:Piano Trio

Artists: Veronika Jarůšková - [violin]
Boris Giltburg - [piano]
Peter Jarůšek - [cello]

Antonín Dvořák [1841-1904]

Piano Trio No 4 in E minor “Dumky”

  1. Lento maestoso – Allegro quasi doppio movimento – Lento maestoso – Allegro
  2. Poco adagio – Vivace non troppo – Poco adagio – Vivace
  3. Andante – Vivace non troppo – Andante – Allegretto
  4. Andante moderato (quasi tempo di marcia) – Allegretto scherzando – Tempo1 – Allegro – Tempo1 
  5. Allegro

6.  Lento maestoso – Vivace – Lento – Vivace

Antonín Dvorák completed the E minor Piano Trio on 12 February 1891, shortly before travelling to America for a twoyear stint as director of a newly founded conservatory in New York. The work gets its name from dumka (dumky is the plural), a Ukrainian word meaning meditation or brooding. The dumka was a folk song form that Dvorák utilised in a number of his compositions. His approach to the form, which was quite distinctive, emphasized contrast and called for a sectional layout in which a pensive, minorkey lament alternated with relaxed, dance-like material in the major. 

Dvorák took up this novel formal conception as a way of freeing himself from the accepted sonata-form structures and the sometimes overbearing influence of Brahms, who had helped the younger composer to become known outside Prague. But Dvorák’s natural instinct had always been to champion all things Czech, and his great achievement in this and many other works of this period was to create music of universal appeal while retaining his special Czech identity. Russian composers led by Musorgsky had initiated a similar attempt to break away from the stranglehold of German music and the rules of German composition; French composers were also looking to recreate their own tradition of composition. 

The idea of creating a sixmovement piano trio in which all six movements were based on the dumka structure was a bold one, but Dvorák’s inventiveness was more than equal to the challenge. Indeed, few of his works exhibit as clearly his exceptional skill at fusing contrasting material into a unified line of action. Part of what makes the Dumky so successful is Dvorák’s use of a different key in each movement to ensure variety of colour and mood. The result is a suitelike cycle with movements in E minor, C sharp minor, A major, D minor, E flat, C minor that is neither end nor beginning-oriented, but cumulative in effect. Coherence is not sacrificed, however, because the similarity in structure between the various movements develops its own kind of formal unity, replacing what had been lost with the abandonment of a more conventional keyscheme.

The first three dumkas are joined in the manuscript by the instruction attacca subito, so despite the composer it is still possible to feel that it is a four-movement work. This is the first of the many deliciously confusing events in this work. The first dumka contrasts a very slow self-absorbed opening section with a shorter but lively dance, whose return brings the movement to an abrupt close. The Poco adagio theme of the second dumka is gloriously sentimental, typical Dvorák heart-on-sleeve romance. It is again contrasted with an intoxicating, headlong dance. The third dumka has the faintest echo of Lohengrin in its radiant opening followed by another gorgeous vocal melody, which treads the exquisite borderline between romanticism and sentimentality. The vivace contrast is quite short, as if the composer cannot bear to be parted from his latest creation. 

The fourth dumka breaks into this nostalgic idyll with a melancholic march that is contrasted with a bright allegretto, ornamented with bird song. The fifth dumka is a high-spirited romp with delicious hesitations led by the violin. The finale opens with a dramatic Lento maestoso made up of brief tension-filled perorations and interjections followed by the hectic vivace. This subsides again and, with great mastery, the composer finds a dozen ways to keep us on the edge of our seats until the final frantic outburst.

Francis Humphrys