Dvořák’s Seventh begins with a brooding, circling motif, but it is immediately flanked by a harsh, soaring one. The abrupt contrasts of the movement are established right from the start. In the course of the movement, they grow into dramatic waves, which a lyrical secondary theme seeks to calm. This juxtaposition continues in the second movement, and in the scherzo, too, a sense of sorrow seems to be hidden behind the dance-like melancholy. The finale takes up the soaring motif of the first movement and makes it the main theme. March-like and contrapuntal sections, marked by abrupt accents, delay the redemptive turn to the major until the very last moment.
In this work, Dvořák impressively succeeds in synthesising German-Austrian symphonic tradition and Slavic folklore. Although the influences of his great role model Johannes Brahms are unmistakable, Dvořák finds a style that is very much his own. This was particularly well received in London, where the Seventh – commissioned by the London Philharmonic Society – was first performed in 1885. Even the then feared critic George Bernard Shaw praised “the variety of rhythms and figures”.
Semyon Bychkov, who performs the symphony in this concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker, is currently chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic – whose founding concert in 1896 was conducted by none other than Antonín Dvořák.