Te Deum – Antonin Dvorak
Hymn of Praise - A Symphonic Cantata
– Felix Mendelssohn
Spring 2004 Concert Notes
Tina Johns Heidrich, Conductor
Joe Jacovino, Accompanist
Connecticut Master Chorale Orchestra
Te Deum - Antonin Dvorak
Antonin Dvorak was born in Bohemia in 1841 and spent most of his life in his native country. In 1892 he came to America to assume the post of Director of the new National Conservatory in New York. His arrival in America was to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus discovering America. To mark the occasion, Dvorak was asked to write a work. Dvorak chose a festive Te Deum.
Dvorak decided to use a four-section (rather than the traditional three-section) Te Deum format, with four main changes of tempo giving the piece a mini-symphony format. The opening movement is exhilarating with a invigorating timpani solo followed by a triumphal choral motif for the statement of Te Deum Laudamus – (We Praise Thee). This sets the overall mood of the work moving from glory to awe and back to glory. The piece builds and builds and in the final section, celebratory "Alleluias" are heard followed by timpani, cymbals and fanfare which provides and explosive conclusion to this powerful work of thanksgiving and praise!
Hymn of Praise – A Symphonic Cantata – Felix Mendelssohn
Hymn of Praise – A Symphonic Cantata was commissioned to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press and performed at the Leipzig, Gutenberg Jubilee in 1840. Hymn of Praise is a large work, with Scriptural texts, a symphonic prelude, and a choral finale.
In titling the work a Symphonic Cantata, Mendelssohn was endeavoring to create his own, new type of generic hybrid and possibly to avoid comparisons with Beethoven’s ninth symphony - though the two works have little in common other than the simple fact that they are both choral symphonies. More likely he used the term as an accurate description of the piece’s form and content.
This jubilant work opens with a three-movement instrumental sinfonia prelude, followed by a major cantata of nine vocal movements. Although printing was the excuse for the cantata, there is no reference to that in the text. The texts, chosen principally from the Bible, reflect the praise of God and mankind's progress from darkness to enlightenment.
The central theme, according to Mendelssohn, was "... a kind of universal thanksgiving on the words of the Psalm 150 - ‘Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord’." One movement contains the familiar hymn Now Thank We All Our God, (a particular favorite of Mendelssohn's) - first in an 8-part cappella setting and then a very majestic rendition with the addition of the orchestra.
Hymn of Praise mingles different forms in a truly romantic fashion. This glorious and beautiful cantata exalts the heavens and hearts and all nine vocal sections explore a number of vocal variations. The cantata culminates with a fugal chorus of hymnic praise - the joining of instrumental and vocal celebrations, and the rich traditions of the German symphony and cantata.
German composer Robert Schumann said of the work "The form of the work could not be more brilliantly chosen – it is one of his freshest and most charming creations." In his critique of the first performance, Schumann wrote that "a murmur went up from the whole assembly, which in church means more than clamorous applause in the concert hall."
Following the Leipzig performance Hymn of Praise went on to become a very successful work.
Many believe Mendelssohn's melodic inspiration and orchestration were at their height when he was a teenager but the power of his later works including the Hymn of Praise seem to fly in the face of such claims. He died in 1847 at the tender age of 38, one of music history's most under-rated geniuses.