Programme notes

Hebrides Ensemble Heading Eastward Concert

Streamed Live from Perth Concert Hall, Monday 12 February, 1pm


Leoš Janáček: Dumka (1890)

The Dumka is thought to date from 1880, and was apparently first performed in 1885 in a benefit concert for the Brno Organ School, though it was not published until 1929, shortly after the composer’s death. The Czech term ‘dumka’ originally meant a lament, from the Ukrainian ‘duma’, a kind of narrative ballad. In Slavonic music, the dumka has an A–B–A form, usually alternating fast and slow sections. (Dvorák’s famous ‘Dumky’ Piano Trio was not written until 1891.) The passionately melancholic opening strain of Janáček’s piece is effectively contrasted with a more pathetic middle section.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010, courtesy of Hyperion Records Ltd.


Antonín Dvořák: Trio No. 4 in E minor, “Dumky” (1891)

Dvořák composed his fourth and final piano trio in 1891, the same year in which he was offered a position as director of the fledgling National Conservatory of Music in New York City. By this time, his nationalist aspirations were already expanding beyond his native Bohemia to encompass pan-Slavism before ultimately encompassing the New World. One example of Dvořák’s pan-Slavism can be seen in the many compositions from the 1880s and beyond that incorporated the dumka (plural dumky), a traditional Slavic musical form. Tracing its origins back to Ukrainian epic ballads, the dumka had become a staple of many Slavic cultures by the nineteenth century. In the Czech lands, a dumka was defined as a plaintive or melancholic piece that is broken up periodically by unexpectedly cheerful, up-tempo episodes. Dvořák drew upon the dumka frequently, notably in the slow movements of his Opus 81 Piano Quintet, his Tenth String Quartet, and his String Sextet, as well as in two of his famous Slavonic Dances.

For his Fourth Piano Trio, Dvořák boldly opted to discard the standard four-movement format of his earlier trios and instead write a suite of six dumky, each in a different key. Although each of the six movements follows the same basic format – beginning with a slow, plaintive melody that gets interrupted once or twice by faster, more dancelike music before returning at the end – the so-called “Dumky” Trio is hardly repetitive. Rather, Dvořák gives each movement its own unique character, drawing on the diverse variety of Czech folk melodies and rhythms. The first three movements flow into one another without pauses. Recalling the roots of the dumka in ballad singing, each of the first two movements feature plaintive solos in the strings alternating with dancelike outbursts. This three movement sequence culminates with the flowing and tender andante third movement. The self-contained fourth movement unfolds like a moderately-paced march interrupted by fleeting episodes. The allegro fifth movement begins with a bold gesture in the solo cello, which is contrasted by even faster music to give the movement a breezy, scherzo-like feel. The lento maestoso finale begins with a dramatic recitative but culminates in relentless, driving rhythms for a resounding feeling of finality.

by Jason S. Heilman, Ph.D © 2018


Béla Bartók: Mikrokosmos (selection of movements)

Bartók spent a huge part of his career collecting folksongs from his native Hungary and its neighbouring countries; by the time of his death in 1945, he had amassed around 10,000 folk melody transcriptions. His aim was not just to raise awareness among the Hungarian public of the rich cultural tradition they had at their fingertips, but also to preserve this heritage for the next generation. Bartók quickly discovered that one of the best ways he could keep this music alive was to introduce it to children, making folksong an integral part of the pedagogical works that students used to learn a new instrument. The six volumes of his seminal piano work, Mikrokosmos, are a case in point – this progressive series of studies takes the student from beginner, through advanced, to a professional level of piano playing, using folk tunes as the basis of these technical exercises.
by Jo Kirkbride