Dvorak occasionally said he simply wished to convey the elemental feelings ordinary people for their native art and resented his musical project being used to serve politics: "But what have we two to do with politics? Let us be glad that we are privileged to serve our beautiful art alone" (Hollander 317).
Dvorak vacillated between the importance of politics in the context of art. At the time of the composition of Symphony No.5 in F Major, Op.76. "the composer was faced at that time with the tempting prospect of writing German operas for Dresden and Vienna -- offers that caused him serious misgivings, because if he responded he feared he would be betraying the Czech national cause" (Clapham 1961, p.105). But eventually he returned to the nationalist source of his original inspiration: "The main theme of the symphony was inspired by witnessing the arrival in Prague of an express train from Budapest" (Clapham 1961, p.107).
While it might be argued that Dvorak was presenting his somewhat sentimentalized version of the common people in his compositions, it should be stressed that at very least he believed that he was presenting an 'authentic' portrait of Czech ordinary life, that would still be recognizable to the people who produced the tunes. He composed for popular enjoyment as well as to educate his listeners about their heritage. Dvorak also said that he was looking for inspiration everywhere: "An American reporter once told me that the most valuable talent a journalist could possess was a 'nose for news'. Just so the musician must prick his ear for music. Nothing must be too low or too insignificant for the musician" said Dvorak (Clapham 1966, p.863).
However, the inspiration for Symphony No. 5, some say, was even more prosaic: "Symphony No. 5 owes its genesis to a fortuitous series of events in the composer's life. At age 32, his lady friend informed him that she was pregnant, and the two were hastily married; having poor financial prospects, Dvorak did what any penniless composer of today would do: he applied for a grant" (All Music Guide, 2009). The monetary rationale behind the Symphony is substantiated by its out-of-order numbering scheme, which was to confuse later chronicles of Dvorak's life: at the time, it was thought a higher number would sell more tickets to performances of the new work.
According to the All Music Guide, Symphony No. 5 "opens in a leisurely manner with an arpeggiated theme for two clarinets; this opening idea returns to dominate the development section, and the movement closes with a peaceful coda." Although the Symphony opened gently in the performance I attended, this leisurely quality was still able to hold the attention of the audience. The second movement, the "Andante con moto" was the most haunting section of the piece, followed by the most dance-like Scherzo which has been described as "a vivacious, colorfully scored movement full of delightfully unexpected contrasts" (All Music Guide, 2009). All three works were very linear and straightforward, whether slow or fast. The only strikingly discordant section was that of the Finale, which I later discovered deliberately used a minor key to create a contrast when the ending shifted to tonic key of F major. "Reminiscences of the opening theme of the first movement conclude the Finale, which is not only the finest movement of the work, but one of Dvorak's most outstanding symphonic movements" (All Music Guide, 2009). Even when using atonality, Dvorak was always concerned in creating a 'satisfying' end for his audience, a gesture that is again consistent in his resistance to the division between common, popular music and high art.
Clapham, John. "Dvorak and the American Indian." The Musical Times, 107. 1484 (Oct., 1966),
863-867. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/953317 Accessed: November 28, 2009
Clapham, John. "Dvorak's Symphony: The Creative Process." Music & Letters, 42. 2