Antonin Dvorák

Othello, concert overture, B. 174 (Op. 93)

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Antonín Dvorák didn't compose an actual tone poem until less than half a decade before the turn of the twentieth century; he did, however, dabble on the fringes of program music with the three overtures for orchestra that he called, collectively, Nature, Life and Love. The third of these -- Love -- took its dramatic basis from what might seem an unlikely source (at least if one is seeking an optimistic appraisal of romance): Shakespeare's Othello. Dvorák seems himself to have been somewhat uncomfortable with calling the Op. 93 overture Othello, and he toyed with the idea of providing a less specific title. In the end he opted to stick with Othello, but always emphasized that the connection between the music of Op. 93 and Shakespeare's work was as much in his mind as on the music-paper. The Othello Overture was composed during late 1891 and early 1892, and first performed, along with Op. 91 and Op. 92 (Nature and Life, respectively), during April 1892 in Prague.

    The Othello Overture is a fine piece, from the rich pseudo-archaisms of the very opening (the impression of the Renaissance is palpable in Dvorák's archaic harmonization of the opening phrase), to the violent jealousy of the Allegro con brio that follows shortly thereafter, to the vicious murder of Desdemona (the specific moment of the murder is actually indicated by Dvorák on the score), to the fevered final bars when Othello, pushed to the edge of his sanity, forgives Desdemona and kills himself. The work is very possibly the most grim of all Dvorák's compositions -- the biting dissonance of the last bars, and in particular one moment at which we are treated to the shock of F sharp, G natural, D natural, and D sharp all at the same time -- and as a result it has never matched its immediate predecessor, the Carnival Overture, Op. 92, in popularity. However, in terms of the composer's craft and inspiration it is easily superior to that work, and the fact that its treasures are enjoyed by fewer does not mean that they are less.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Capriccio Records C 7250
    2017 LPO LPO 0095
    2016 Erato 0190295975067
    2016 Decca 4830958
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 002894822952
    2015 Brilliant Classics 95297BR
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Decca
    2013 Naxos 8501702
    2013 Berlin Classics 0300539 BC
    2012 Supraphon SU 40902
    2012 BIS BISSACD 1896
    2011 Brilliant Classics 93259
    2010 Decca
    2010 Decca 4782296
    2010 Decca
    2010 MDG 6011601
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 349943-2
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93674
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93166
    2007 EMI Classics 00878
    2007 Warner Classics
    2006 Virgin Classics
    2006 Capriccio Records 71075
    2006 Orfeo 645061
    2006 Supraphon 38312
    2005 Brilliant 92297
    2005 Brilliant 92779
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 Warner Classics 256461530
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 85702
    2004 Naxos 8501701
    2004 Brilliant 92396
    2003 Delos 3314
    2002 Deutsche Grammophon 469366
    2002 Supraphon 36622
    2001 Erato / Virgin 7243561853
    2001 Capriccio Records 51015
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 457651
    1999 Berlin Classics 0093952
    1998 Penguin Classics 460604
    1996 Supraphon 1995
    1995 Multisonic 310072
    1995 Decca 448583
    1994 Capriccio Records 10386
    1994 Naxos 550600
    1994 Supraphon 1898
    1993 London 436 289-2DH
    1993 ASV/Living Era 794
    1992 Deutsche Grammophon 435074
    1992 Chandos 8453
    Ondine 962
    Supraphon 111830
    Supraphon 111995
    Virgin 59016
    Supraphon 111898
    Digital Masterworks 71819
    Supraphon 111927
    Philharmonia of the Nations 39
    Brilliant 93166/8
    Brilliant Classics 93674/38
    Brilliant 92396/38
    Supraphon 1927
    Philips Classics 432602
    Water Lily Acoustics 66
    Supraphon 110605
    Capriccio Records 51015