Zdenek Fibich
(geb. Seborice, 21. Dezember 1850 - gest. Prag, 15. Oktober 1900)

Symphony No. 1 in F major, op. 17 (1877-83)

An extraordinarily prolific and wide-ranging composer, Fibich was celebrated during his relatively brief lifetime and shortly thereafter alongside Smetana and Dvorák as one of the three supreme creators of Czech national music. If he later sacrified this role to his younger contemporary Janácek, this is not to deny the invariably superb craftsmanship and occasionally the emotional force of his music. Fibich grew up in a highly cultivated bilingual household and divided his school years between Vienna and Prague. He had already composed fifty works by the age of fifteen when he left for Leipzig to perfect his musical training (1865-7). After further studies in Paris and Mannheim he returned in 1870 to Prague, where he was soon able to earn a living entirely from his compositions and private teaching. Although he wrote voluminously in practically every genre, he is perhaps best known today as the master of the concert melodrama, in which a speaker recites a literary text to an orchestral accompaniment, and for his Nálady, dojmy a upomínky ("Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences," 1892-8), a set of 376 piano pieces of extraordinary range and variety that functioned as a sort of erotic diary for the great love-affair of his later years and which included, as piece no. 139, the perennial and much-loved miniature, Poème.

Although Fibich produced orchestral music from the time of his adolescence it was not until the age of thirty-three that he ventured before the public with a classical four-movement symphony. The Symphony No. 1 (1877-83) is a relaxed, bucolic work that already reveals the hallmarks of his approach to sonata form: rather than relying on thematic conflict and dramatic development he cultivated a fine art of thematic transformation, probably derived from his early infatuation with Wagner, and applied it throughout entire movements. This, combined with a strong melodic vein and a penchant for unusual key schemes, gave his music a modern if not particularly Czech flavor that was to attract the interest of such internationally renowned conductors as Hans Richter in Vienna. The First Symphony was published in an arrangement for piano four-hands in or around 1883 (by F. A. Urbánek in Prague) but had to wait until 1960 for its publication in full score.

Bradford Robinson, 2005
For performance material please contact the publisher Edition Bärenreiter Praha, Prague. Reprint of a copy from the Musikbibliothek der Münchener Stadtbibliothek, Munich.