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For all Dvorák’s undoubted facility in composition, he could also be a compulsive fiddler with his own music: many works were subject to revision, sometimes amounting to complete reworking. The Notturno in B major has a particularly interesting history from this point of view. The work began life as the central slow section of Dvorák’s wholly extraordinary String Quartet in E minor (B19) which was probably composed late in the 1860s. In one continuous movement, the Quartet often veers towards extreme key areas and occasionally verges on atonality. In its original form, the Notturno, entitled Andante religioso, was set over a pedal F sharp lasting nearly seventy bars.
Dvorák revived the Andante religioso, in a much curtailed form, as the slow movement of the G major String Quintet with double bass (Op 77, B49) in 1875. In this form the Quintet would have had five movements; two slow movements, according to the composer, ‘seemed too much’, so he extracted the Notturno. Never being one to waste an effective piece, he added a brief introduction and arranged the work, first for string orchestra and then for violin and piano (there is also a version for piano duet). In this later form, the Notturno retains its melodic freshness and rich textures without giving the listener too much of the pedal note which had dominated its original version.
from notes by Jan Smaczny © 1998
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