Antonin Dvorak: The Golden Spinning Wheel

In my last post, I wrote about a stash of classical albums I picked up at a garage sale when I was in high school in the 1970s.  Another record in the “classical cache” of albums held a little gem–a tone poem called The Golden Spinning Wheel by Antonin Dvorak. I don’t believe I had ever heard of Dvorak before, but it interested me that he was Czech, since my grandfather came from Eastern Europe. The music didn’t sound at all like any of the gypsy melodies we listened to every Sunday on the Hungarian Hour, though.

When I first started listening to classical music, half the fun was seeing the mental images each new piece evoked for me. Later in college, I read a lecture by Stravinski, in which he criticized composers who wrote visual or onomotopoeic music for popular tastes. In the liner notes to Rite of Spring, Igor let it slip that the Disney Studios only offered him a pittance for the right to use that piece in Fantasia. They supposedly told him that if he didn’t like it, too bad–they didn’t have to pay him anything since the Russian copyrights weren’t valid in the United States. So I don’t think Stravinski was completely unbiased on the issue of visual music. (He also once wrote he thought the gramophone was generally a bad idea.  More on that below.)

Several years ago, my daughter asked me to let her take violin lessons. The teacher followed the Suzuki method, and owning an old violin I bought in high school with the hopes of one day learning, I was happy when the teacher encouraged me to learn as well. As a result, I understand a little more now about what’s going on in a piece musically, and so sometimes listening to music is more an intellectual activity than a visual/emotional one for me. That, by the way, was why Stravinksi didn’t like gramophones–he thought it would expose music to people who had no musical training, who would therefore not understand. Another example of the Western schism between mind and body. Learning researchers find we remember better when we involve more of the senses. And to try to turn shut your mind’s eye to visual images seems a bit pointless (and boring, too!) Thinking back on all the pieces I’ve so far written about, they remain vivid and still beloved precisely because I formed visual associations with them.

The Golden Spinning Wheel starts out with the French horns quietly puffing out a loping melody. Today it still makes me imagine myself standing in a field in the English countryside. It is a foggy morning and in the distance a pack of hounds and red-clad horsemen ride by, in hot pursuit of a fox. Following this introduction, the full orchestra swells up dramatically into a romantic melody. The piece alternates between these two themes until the end. What this has to do with a dove I don’t know, and I can’t find the old vinyl anymore, which I had probably worn out anyway.

I haven’t told my daughter about the images The Golden Spinning Wheel conjures up for me. She’s an animal rights activist, vegetarian and she volunteers at a local no-kill animal shelter. She’d cry “Poor Fox!” Sometimes her extremism rankles me a bit–as does extremism of any sort. Which is why I’m happy to have been reminded, in writing this, of how important it is to just take your mind on a visual vacation, with the music cranked up.


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

One Response to Antonin Dvorak: The Golden Spinning Wheel

  1. Gallivanta says:

    Well, I very much enjoyed listening to your Dvorak but I am one of those who can’t visualise music. I wish I could.


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