Antonín Dvořák: The Golden Spinning Wheel
Antonín Dvořák composed five symphonic poems in his career, all of which were composed in a two-year spell between 1896-97. The Golden Spinning Wheel was the third of the quintet, and was completed in April 1896. The work is inspired by the poem of the same name by Karel Jamomír Erben. The first full public performance of the work happened in London in October 1896.
The story has been described as follows:
“While out riding, a king happens upon a young lady, Dornička, and falls in love with her. He asks her step-mother to bring her to his castle. The step-mother and step-sister set off towards the king’s castle with Dornička. On the way, they murder her, hack off her feet and hands, and cut out her eyes. The step-sister poses as Dornička and marries the king, after which he is called away to battle.
Meanwhile, in the forest, a magician finds Dornička’s remains and decides to bring her back to life. He sends a page to the castle to persuade the step-sister to part with “two feet” in return for a golden spinning wheel, “two hands” for a golden distaff, and “two eyes” for a golden spindle. The body complete again, the magician brings Dornička back to life.
The king returns from battle and hears the golden spinning wheel tell the gruesome details of Dornička’s murder. The king goes off into the forest to be reunited with her. The two murderesses are thrown to the wolves.”
Throughout The Golden Spinning Wheel Dvořák was able to create a highly engaging and descriptive symphonic poem. Set as a larger rondo form, the poem breaks off into various episodes that tell Erben’s story. The opening fanfares signify the royal parade, with the following lyrical section accentuating ideas of falling in love.
Dvořák’s rich textures throughout The Golden Spinning Wheel is one of the stand out aspects of the piece. The relationship between the instrument timbres and the colour harmonic language creates such a luscious array of textures that is quintessential Dvořák. The wind writing in the work is some of the finest in Dvořák’s repertory. With woody clarinets soaring with colourful decorations and warm flutes adding to the atmosphere, there is some real mastery in this piece.
Each episode runs into one another to create one big work that lasts around 27-28 minutes. Dvořák uses different instruments to signify characters and moods. For example, he uses brass to represent the king, because brass can be seen as royal and regal. So why write music to an already well-established story? Well the answer to that question is perhaps something that was very personal to Dvořák. There was indeed a need for self-reflection in not just this symphonic poem, but the five that Dvořák wrote in those two years. A reflection on his own compositional style and his culture and beliefs.
Dvořák is often remembered for being a composer who was so heavily inspired by folktales and folk songs, and The Golden Spinning Wheel is no different. The symphonic poem tackles elements of tragedy, triumph, gruesome plot lines and so much more. The story is expertly threaded throughout the music to create a really effective symphonic poem that is still popular in concert halls today.
Antonín Dvořák’s symphonic poem The Golden Spinning Wheel proves that he was a master at orchestration and telling a story. The twists and turns of Erben’s story can be seen throughout the score, making it a really effective and highly engaging piece of music. A really Bohemian treat.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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