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About this Piece

Composed: 1891-1892
Length: c. 15 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes (2nd = piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum and cymbals), harp, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances

In January 1891, Dvorák began a new job, as professor of composition at the Prague Conservatory. It was a short-lived post. He left for the U.S. in September 1892 to take up a similar position with the new National Conservatory in New York City, which had offered him 25 times what Prague paid him.

He did manage to be productive at the same time as teaching. At the end of March 1891 he began a group of three concert overtures or tone poems, originally titled Nature, Life, and Love, and grouped together as Op. 91. He eventually split the trilogy apart, however, leaving In Nature’s Realm as Op. 91. Life became Carnival, Op. 92, and Love became Othello, Op. 93. (These were first performed in Prague in April 1892.)

Othello begins with a hushed string chorale, but this being the dark side of love, ominous intimations of jealousy soon appear. Dvorák annotated his manuscript score in pencil with comments following the narrative line of Othello’s murder of Desdemona as given by Shakespeare, but he also contemplated more abstract titles, “Tragic” and “Eroica.” It is easy to identify the more lyrical themes with love and Desdemona and the more turbulent ones with jealousy and Othello. Although Dvorák works these contrasting ideas out in a rough sonata form, the musical reconciliation is not followed in the narrative, as jealousy fatally overwhelms love.

- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.