This week we are looking at musical settings of Shakespeare’s Othello. Last time, we took a glance at Verdi’s operatic settings and today, we’ll talk about Dvorak’s approach to the tragic tale.
Dvorak’s overture Othello (1892) is part of a greater symphonic triptych consisting of overtures originally titled Nature, Life, and Love. Each overture was later renamed to better express his narrative. You may now know them as In Nature’s Realm, Carnival, and Othello. The triptych walks the listener through the appreciation of nature, the joys of life, and then ends in the tragedy that results when people ruin the goodness they’ve gained from nature and life.
The three overtures were first performed together in Prague in 1892 and later they were presented at Dvorak’s first American public appearance after he moved to New York. Below, you can listen to all three overtures. For today’s purposes, however, let’s focus on a few fun facts about Othello.
Did you know that Dvorak actually noted in his score how the music was meant to line up with Shakespeare’s drama? The story shows how jealousy drives one man to end the life of his lover and ultimately, his own. Othello’s jealousy is depicted in the forceful, triplet theme heard throughout. Dvorak also reflects when Desdemona falls asleep at the end when he quotes Wagner’s “magic sleep” motif from Die Walküre. He also uses his own Requiem to foreshadow Desdemona’s ultimate fate.
As you listen to all three overtures below, note how Dvorak uses the same “nature” theme in each, only in a distorted fashion in Othello.
Join me on Saturday for a Shakespeare-inspired playlist in honor of his birthday!