Many consider Antonín Dvorák's Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70, the pinnacle of his achievement as a composer. Indeed, never before had he risen to such a height, and one can make a formidable case that he never again did, the immense and just popularity of the "New World" Symphony notwithstanding. Dvorák had spent a full five years away from the symphonic domain when, in December 1884, he began plotting his course through the Symphony No. 7. The interval had been an important if not especially prolific one; the works of this period had been significant (for example the Piano Trio in F minor, Op. 65, the String Quartet No. 11 in C, Op. 61), and when the time came to compose the Symphony No. 7 Dvorák was prepared. The commission came from the London Philharmonic Society, to whose membership Dvorák had been elected in 1884.
The four-movement Classical plan was Dvorák's bread and butter as a composer. Here the movements are: Allegro maestoso, Poco Adagio, Vivace (the Scherzo), and Allegro.
A less likely main theme for a symphony than the wistful, lyric pianissimo idea offered by the violas and cellos at the opening of the first movement would be hard to come by. But it is not long before the drooping pendant at the end of the melody is converted, by means of some characteristic Dvorák hemiolas, into something far more electrifying, and from that point the movement is off and running. The second theme, in B flat major and introduced by a rich rising chromatic passage in the violins and woodwinds, has the aspect of a carefree summer day to it. The slow movement begins simply, contentedly -- the clarinet providing an airy tune that hovers between the keys of B flat and F major. There is, as the movement gradually reveals itself, passion enough. The hemiola-ridden main tune of the Scherzo, which is probably the most famous movement in the symphony, draws us into an extraordinary and compelling realm in which vivacious rhythm and undeniable melancholy are made to walk hand-in-hand.
Prominent augmented seconds and an abundant use of the raised fourth scale degree provide the finale's principal theme and the music around it with a peculiar and subtly exotic pungency. A major becomes the launching pad for a fluffy second theme in the cellos. The assertive quarter note thrusts of the symphony's final bars manage to break through the wall of D minor into the adjacent field of D major, and the matter ends in a blaze of glory.