Symphony No. 2 - "Passionate confession"

Fibich's Second Symphony is regarded as his first important orchestral work whose composition was influenced by his fateful love for Anežka Schulzová. The beginning of his relationship with Anežka coincided with the start of his work on the E flat major Symphony - the year was 1892.

The fateful love: Anežka Schulzová

In the very year Antonín Dvořák left for the USA to further his worldwide renown, a new and quite unexpected chapter opened in Fibich's life and artistic career. The life of Zdeněk Fibich could easily have continued without problems and with enjoyment of his growing success at home and abroad, when a woman entered his existence for the third, and now most fateful, time. In 1892 Fibich fell in love with the 24 years old Anežka Schulzová (1868-1905), their relationship adding an entirely new dimension to the composer's work. Their meeting in that year was not their first. Fibich had first met her either on 1st October 1885 or 15th October 1886 when Anežka came to him seeking piano tuition. Neither of them had had an inkling of what would follow a few years later. In 1892 they met for the second time as Anežka wanted him to teach her again, this time composition. Fibich described the situation later on in No. 126 of his cycle of piano pieces Moods, Impressions, Reminiscences, "How Anežka was learning". Fibich's relationship with Anežka late in his life pervaded practically all the works of his final creative period and this piano cycle was perhaps the best testimony of it. The period itself can be likened to a kind of creative explosion, the motives from the pieces in the cycle being mirrored in later works on the one hand or existing works being adopted in some of the Moods on the other. 376 of the Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences have been published, but Fibich had written considerably more of them. As to Anežka Schulzová herself, her personality will be discussed in more detail in Part Two.

The Second Symphony: Composition and première

According to Hudec's Thematic Catalogue Fibich was working on his Second Symphony from 12th April 1892 to March 1893. The first performance took place on 9th April 1893 in Prague (according to Ludvík Boháček in the Hall of the Prague Rudolfinum). It was conducted by the composer himself. The success of the performance can be judged by the fact that the Symphony was performed again the same year, on 10th December 1893, by the Vienna Philharmonic under Hans Richter.

Symphony No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 38

Fibich cast his Symphony in the classical four-movement form. Although it cannot be described as being monothematic, the main theme (or rather motive) of the first movement puts in an appearance in all the movements. It is clear that Fibich thought of it as key to the whole Symphony. The hidden meaning of this motive is perhaps intimated in a letter by Anežka's brother Bohuslav dated 21st February 1951: According to the tradition handed down within the family the main motive of the Symphony is Fibich's exclamation "Darling Anežka, now you're mine".

We have spoken of Fibich expressing much of his feeling towards Anežka by way of music. The truth of this theory is hard to prove with certainty. All we have is the score, and it is there that we have to seek the answer.

1st movement - Allegro moderato

The first movement traces the layout of the sonata form. The exposition occupies bars 1-85, development 86-136, and recapitulation and closing section 137-283.

Exposition 1-85

The exposition can be broken up into subsections: the main theme 1-38, the second subject 39-59, and the closing section 60-85. The character of all three section themes is interesting. Fibich naturally enough works with the main theme more extensively than with the other two, and as has already been said he does so not only in the first but also in the other movements. His expression is virile and firm in places, while in others it is lyrical and tender, sometimes wistful.

The main theme can be divided into smaller sections, each of which fulfils its own thematic and structural function. Bars 1-10 expose the main subject (motive), but from the structural angle they make ready the bridge (bars 11-13) which leads to the main section 14-34. The passage finally calms down in bars 35-38. It is surprising how much expression, action and movement Fibich manages to create in the space of a mere 38 bars.

The whole of the main motive (Allegro moderato) takes four bars and is characterised by alternation between instrument groups - see bars 1 and 2. It is a kind of question and answer exchange, as between man and woman. While at its first exposure it emerges as if from background mist, as if being only a promise, its version from bar 24 onward is quite different: decisive and in full orchestra. The main role here is played by the clarinet which has an impressive solo. Jaroslav Jiránek has pointed out the link between this theme and Impression No. 46 being the motive of Anežka's head.


The closing theme (Più mosso) is unambiguously masculine and resolute. Nonetheless, in a sophisticated fashion it still flows from the main theme, using part of it in full (woodwind 60-61) and some more of it as figuration (62 on). But in the bass line in particular it comes forward with new thematic material.

2nd movement - Adagio

A movement full of charming melody and deep emotional warmth - like a love song. This is underscored by its formal scheme (ABA1 + coda). The A section consists of bars 1-35, the strongly contrasting middle section (B) of bars 36-63 and (A1) of 64-112 expanded by a coda. It is interesting to examine the sketches which preceded the definitive version of the work. Here we find differences between the piano short score and the full score - differences that are strongest in the second movement. The whole of the opening melody in the piano manuscript is quite different. It perhaps testifies to the composer's anxious efforts to mould this music into its definitive shape. In the A section he creates a broad-winded melody with some broad-shouldered intervals - (one to ten plus four).

The whole passage is made up of long phrases, so that the climax of (A) occurs as late as bar 25. In bar 29 begins the process of preparation for (B). Jaroslav Jiránek describes (B) as "à la marche funèbre", backing his idea by pointing to Fibich's later use of similar material in the middle section of Moods No. 34 of his cycle Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences. This Mood was meant to paint a picture of a disagreement with Anežka in September 1894.

In the middle section (bars 54-64) Fibich also makes use of a little motive first heard in section (A) between bars 29 and 35. As to the coda, this can be thought to begin in bar 96. The coda still lightly reminds us - especially by the rhythm in bar 96 - of the motive of disagreement which, however, is smoothed over in the figurations in violins and flute. Thus in bar 100 the warm heart-felt motive from the opening of the movement is able to make a reappearance. In bars 109-112 we hear Fibich's exclamation in the quiet rendering by pizzicato strings and tympani.

3rd movement - Scherzo

is marked Presto. Its form is once again in three sections (ABA plus coda). A key to the understanding of the tempo of the whole movement is to be found in the central section (B) marked Trio - Molto meno mosso, it being a typical example of the use of the folk dance Sousedská (Neighbours' dance, Ländler) which we also find for instance in another work by Fibich, his suite Dojmy z venkova (Impressions of the Countryside), that we discussed in the second part of this series and that nonetheless is of a later date than the Symphony.

4th movement - Allegro energico

The victorious ending of the Symphony is its fourth movement.

The form of the last movement could once again be described as (ABA1 + coda). The (A) section consists of bars 1-84, (B) of 85-167, and (A1) with coda of 168-310. The (A) section can be divided into smaller segments, the first of which consists of bars 1-38. It can be further divided into (a) 1-17, (b) 18-30, and (a1) 31-38. The (a) segment presents vigorous, masculine music, while (b) is tuneful, with the violoncellos taking up the leading role (Molto cantabile). First and second violins contribute a striking virtuoso-like figuration (leggiero). The (a1) section is then a shortened version of (a). An entirely different character is projected by the next section (Meno mosso) which can again be divided into two segments, bars 39-47 and 48-56. The music here is more leisurely and playful. Worth noting is the oboe solo in bars 41-42 and 50-51. The (A1) section in bars 57-98 (Tempo primo) develops the themes first heard in (A), with the composer making use of all kinds of imitation techniques. The whole section is built up both in dynamics and orchestration until it ends in the same festive mood as that of the opening of the movement. After the repeat comes section (B) introduced by a remindful bridge passage from bars 85 to108. While the bars 85-98 develop motives from the fourth movement's (A) section, the following bars 99-108 present another variant of the fateful motive "Darling Anežka, now you're mine". It now sounds quite different, as if bereft of its lightness. It sounds heavier and is in a minor key. We should also notice the triplet figure in the alla breve measure, with the bass striding against it with what is in fact a variant of the fourth movement's opening motive. The entry of the trombones in bar 108 makes an almost doom-laden impression.

All black clouds, however, disperse during bars 107 and 108, preparing the ground for a new section marked Meno mosso which occupies bars 109-133. It comes to a kind of lovers' rest. The thematic material is identical with the Reminiscence No. 132 and can only be described as a love song.

Bars 134-141 form a bridge leading back to the whirl of the basic character of the fourth movement. Bars 142-166 develop the motives from section (A) and with bar 167 we enter (A1). The (A1) section as a whole is an almost exact reprise of (A), but we should take note of the innovation in bars 188-190 where Fibich's exclamation makes its reappearance. In bars 193-229 we observe a redevelopment of the themes from (A), of which bars 218-229 prepare the ground for the coda occupying bars 230-310 (Più mosso). It cannot come as a surprise to find that the triumphal ending of the whole Symphony is centred on Fibich's exclamation and the Symphony's core idea. This idea appears in two forms, first as an accompanying figure (e.g. in bar 230 in horns, tympani, second violins and violas) and then in full flight in bars 257-258. In the Molto vivace section (279) we are reminded of some of the ideas from the Scherzo, while in bar 295 the proper coda follows in the form of a dialogue between the brass: "Anežka, darling", and the strings: "you're mine".

Fibich ends his Second Symphony - the first work of the creative period which for the rest of his life was under the spell of his relationship with Anežka Schuzová - in a triumphant mood. The Symphony - a crowning work of the composer's career - is a composition that stands its ground face to face with the most powerful symphonic works of the Czech as well as the world repertoire.