Dvořák described the symphony’s progress to a friend on 22 December 1884: “Just now a new symphony occupies me, and wherever I go I think of nothing but my work, which must be capable of stirring the world, and God grant me that it will!” The work was premiered at St James’s Hall in London in the spring of 1885, conducted by the composer. It was received enthusiastically, and was also a critical success. The symphony went on to be performed in Germany and the United States.
It is not hard to hear the influence of Brahms in this work – the symphony is a contemporary of Brahms’s Third, which Dvořák was much impressed by. Brahms had in fact lent Dvořák significant support, offering him advice and introducing him to his publisher. This brought with it its own problems, since to pursue an international career at that time seemed to mean glossing over Dvořák’s Slavonic roots and presenting himself as a ‘serious’ composer in the Austro-German tradition. Bizarrely, he was not allowed to refer to himself as Antonín Dvořák in his pubished scores – merely Ant. Dvořák.
The symphony is in D minor – the same key, incidentally, as another symphony commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society, Beethoven’s Ninth. It has the customary four movements, including a slow movement and an absolutely beguiling scherzo.
This recording by Sir Colin Davis and the LSO was made in 2001. Sir Colin had already recorded Dvořák‘s Eighth and Ninth Symphonies, which launched the LSO Live label. In Symphony No 7 he demonstrates a lilt and a flexibility, which gives this reading its unique character.
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