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Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Antonín Dvořák - Svatá Ludmila, Czech Philharmonic, Jakub Hrůša; Saint Ludmila

Autograph score, title page

This oratorio was commissioned by the Leeds Music Festival. The premiere was on 15th October (not 16th October) 1886.

Leeds Festival had not found the theme of Saint Ludmila appropriate, and tried to put influence on Dvořák, through a third party, Dvořák's publisher, Henry Littleton, to change his subject to a Biblical rather than a Czech national theme, in order for the commissioned work to have greater appeal to British tastes.

Fortunately, Dvořák stuck to his guns. He was determined to keep to his chosen subject.

Listen to the podcast Composer of the Week, BBC Sounds (from the 33 minutes point) - Donald Macleod explores the life, music and perseverance of Antonín Dvořák.

It was a bit of a nerve to try to propose a change of subject matter to a great composer!

All's well that ends well:

London, 18. 10. 86.

Dear Friend,

At last everything is over, my victory was tremendous and I hasten to give you more details.

Saint Ludmilla made in general a great impression and was the high point of the whole festival as all the London newspapers write and which you will read in our papers in the next few days.

Such a choir and orchestra as is here I have not heard in England yet. It was magnificent. But all words are vain. The welcome I got from the audience, the choir and the orchestra was so hearty and sincere that I was almost carried off my feet.

During the performance, nearly every number was received with storms of applause and at the end of Part I, the audience, choir and orchestra broke out into such cheers that I felt quite queer.

At the singing of the Aria by Albani "O grant that I may kiss the dust from off thy feet", there was a death-like silence and I was told that people were moved to tears. In short it was most impressive. The choir numbered 350, the orchestra 120, and the best voices and artists. After it ended (it lasted from 11.30 till 3 p. m.), the calls for Dvorak seemed interminable and I had to bow again and again and the whole choir and orchestra waved their handkerchiefs, and finally I said a few words to the audience in English and thanked them for their warm welcome and the excellent performance of my work, which again called forth new storms of applause. In short it was a great day on which I shall always look back with joy...

The weather here is miserable, continual fog and rain- believe me I should be glad to be away from here, but it's no use, duty calls and I must stay till the 6th November and then with all haste to Prague.

Greetings to You and all Your Friends,

A. Dvořák.

The Sunday Times wrote after the performance as follows: "Our friends of art in the north were very happy to have the celebrated Master for the first time in their midst and, at the same time, very proud that a work of such importance should be first performed at their Festival. The audience had already at the end of the first part of Saint Ludmilla come to the certain conclusion that they had before them

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