Antonín Leopold Dvořák
Antonín Leopold Dvořák (// DVOR-zhahk or // di-VOR-zhak; Czech: [ˈantoɲiːn ˈlɛopolt ˈdvor̝aːk]; September 8, 1841 – May 1, 1904) was a Czech composer. Following the nationalist example of Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák frequently employed features of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia (then parts of the Austrian Empire and now constituting the Czech Republic). Dvořák’s own style has been described as ‘the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them’.
Born in Nelahozeves, Dvořák displayed his musical gifts at an early age. His first surviving work, Forget-Me-Not Polka in C (Polka pomněnka) was written possibly as early as 1855. He graduated from the organ school in Prague in 1859. In the 1860s, he played as a violist in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra and taught piano lessons. In 1873, he married Anna Čermáková, and left the orchestra to pursue another career as a church organist. He wrote several compositions during this period. Dvořák’s music attracted the interest of Johannes Brahms, who assisted his career; he was also supported by the critics Eduard Hanslick and Louis Ehlert.
After the premiere of his cantata Stabat Mater (1880), Dvořák visited the United Kingdom and became popular there; his Seventh Symphony was written for London. After a brief conducting stint in Russia in 1890, Dvořák was appointed as a professor at the Prague Conservatory in 1891. In 1892, Dvořák moved to the United States and became the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City, where he also composed. However, shortfalls in payment of his salary, along with increasing recognition in Europe and an onset of homesickness made him decide to return to Bohemia. From 1895 until his death, he composed mainly operatic and chamber music. At his death, he left several unfinished works.
Among Dvořák’s best known works are his symphony From The New World, the American String Quartet, the opera Rusalka and his Cello Concerto in B minor. Among his smaller works, the seventh Humoresque and the song “Songs My Mother Taught Me” are also widely performed and recorded. He composed operas, choral music, a wide variety of chamber music, concerti and many other orchestral and vocal and instrumental pieces. He has been described as “arguably the most versatile…composer of his time”.
Dvořák was born in Nelahozeves, near Prague (then part of Bohemia in the Austrian Empire, now Czech Republic), the eldest son of František Dvořák (1814–1894) and his wife Anna, née Zdeňková (1820–1882). František worked as an innkeeper, a professional player of the zither, and a butcher. Anna was the daughter of Josef Zdeněk, the bailiff of Prince Lobkowitz. Anna and František married on November 17, 1840. Dvořák was the first of fourteen children, eight of whom survived infancy. Dvořák was baptized as a Roman Catholic in the church of St. Andrew in the village. Dvořák’s years in Nelahozeves nurtured the strong Christian faith and love for his Bohemian heritage that so strongly influenced his music.
In 1847, Dvořák entered primary school and learned to play violin from his teacher Joseph Spitz. František was pleased with his son’s gifts. At the age of 13, through the influence of his father, Dvořák was sent to Zlonice to live with his uncle Antonín Zdenĕk in order to learn the German language. Contrary to the belief of some early biographers, Jarmil Burghauser demonstrated that the famous “Butcher Certificate” was a fake and that Dvořák never qualified to enter the butchering trade.
Dvořák took organ, piano and violin lessons from his German-language teacher Anton Liehmann. Liehmann also taught the young boy music theory and introduced him to the composers of the time; Dvořák had much regard for Liehmann despite his teacher’s violent temper. Liehmann was the church organist in Zlonice and sometimes let Antonín play the organ at services. Dvořák took further organ and music-theory lessons at Česká Kamenice with Franz Hanke, who encouraged his musical talents even further and was more sympathetic. At the age of 16, through the urging of Liehmann and Zdenĕk, František allowed his son to become a musician, on the condition that the young boy should build a career as an organist. After leaving for Prague in September 1857, Dvořák entered the city’s Organ School, studying organ with Josef Foerster, singing with Josef Zvonář and theory with František Blažek. He also took an additional language-course to improve his German and worked as an “extra” violist in numerous bands and orchestras, including the orchestra of the St. Cecilia Society. Dvořák graduated from the Organ School in 1859. He applied unsuccessfully for a position as an organist at St. Henry’s Church, but remained undaunted in pursuing a musical career.
In 1858, he joined Karel Komzák’s orchestra, with whom he performed in Prague’s restaurants and at balls. The high professional level of the ensemble attracted the attention of Jan Nepomuk Maýr, who engaged the whole orchestra in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra. Dvořák played viola in the orchestra beginning in 1862. Dvořák could hardly afford concert tickets, but playing in the orchestra gave him a chance to hear music, mainly operas. In July 1863, Dvořák played in a program devoted to the German composer Richard Wagner, who conducted the orchestra. Dvořák had had “unbounded admiration” for Wagner since 1857. In 1862, Dvořák had begun composing his first string quartet. In 1864, Dvořák agreed to share the rent of a flat located in Prague’s Žižkov district with five other people, who also included violinist Mořic Anger and Karel Čech, who later became a singer. In 1866, Maýr was replaced as chief conductor by Bedřich Smetana. Dvořák was making about $7.50 a month. The constant need to supplement his income pushed him to give piano lessons. It was through these piano lessons that he met his future wife. He originally fell in love with his pupil and colleague from the Provisional Theater, Josefína Čermáková, for whom he apparently composed the song-cycle “Cypress Trees”. However, she never returned his love and ended up marrying another man. In 1873 Dvořák married Josefina’s younger sister, Anna Čermáková (1854–1931). They had nine children together, three of whom died in infancy.
Composer and organist
Dvořák called his String Quintet in A Minor (1861) his Opus 1, and his First String Quartet (1862) his Opus 2, although the chronological Burghauser Catalogue numbers these as B.6 and B.7, showing five earlier compositions without opus numbers. In the early 1860s, Dvořák also made his first symphonic attempts, some of which he self-critically burned. The manuscript of a symphony in C minor without opus number, B.9, composed in 1865, was preserved. This symphony has come to be numbered as Dvořák’s First (see under “Works”). His first composing attempts passed without critical reception or public performances. His compositions up through 1870, according to the Burghauser Catalogue either had no known premieres, or were premiered in 1888 or later. In 1870, he composed his first opera, Alfred, over the course of five months from May to October. Its overture was first publicly performed as late as 1905, and the full opera only in 1938.
Up through 1871 Dvořák gave opus numbers only up to 5 among his first 26 compositions. The first press mention of Antonín Dvořák appeared in the Hudební listy journal in June 1871, and the first publicly performed composition was the song Vzpomínání (October 1871, musical evenings of L. Procházka). The opera The King and the Charcoal Burner was returned to Dvořák from the Provisional Theatre and said to be unperformable. Its overture was premiered in 1872 in a Philharmonic concert conducted by Bedřich Smetana, but the full opera with the original score only in 1929. Clapham says Dvořák realized he had gone to “extremes in attempting to follow the example of Wagner.” In 1873-74 he reset “the King and Charcoal Burner libretto entirely afresh, in a totally different manner”, without using “anything from the ill-fated earlier version”. The alternate opera, called King and Charcoal Burner II, B.42, was premiered in Prague in 1874.
On leaving the National Theater Orchestra after his marriage, Dvořák secured the job of organist at St. Adalbert’s Church in Prague under Josef Förster, the father of the composer Josef Bohuslav Foerster. The job paid “a mere pittance”, but it was “a welcome addition for the young couple.” Despite these circumstances, Dvořák still managed to compose a substantial body of music around this time.
In November 1872, Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 5, was performed in Prague, by a “splendid team of players” organized by Procházka. It was the first piece played in a concert. In March 1873, his Czech patriotic cantata The Heirs of the White Mountain was performed by the Prague Hlalol Choral Society of 300 singers (conducted by his friend and supporter Karel Bendl) to a warm response from both audience and critics, making it an “unqualified success.” So in Prague, Dvořák’s compositions were coming to be recognized.
When Dvořák turned age 33 in 1874, however, he remained almost unknown as a composer, outside the area of Prague. He applied for the Austrian State Prize for composition. Brahms was on the jury for the prize and through his influence, Dvořák won it that year. Botstein says the jury was “to award financial support to talented composers in need” in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Brahms found a “massive submission” from Dvořák, “fifteen works including two symphonies, several overtures and a song cycle.” Brahms was “visibly overcome” by the “mastery and talent” of Dvořák.
Clapham gives the official report for the 1874 prize, saying Dvořák was a relatively impoverished music teacher who “has submitted 15 compositions, among them symphonies, which display an undoubted talent …The applicant … deserves a grant to ease his straitened circumstances and free him from anxiety in his creative work.” It says he had not yet owned a piano. Before being married, he had lodged with four other men, one of whom owned a small “spinet” piano.
In 1875, the year his first son was born, Dvořak composed his second string quintet, his 5th Symphony, Piano Trio No. 1, and Serenade for Strings in E. He again entered but this time did not win the Austrian State Prize. He did win it in 1876, and then felt free to resign his position as an organist. In 1877 he wrote the “Symphonic Variations” and Ludevít Procházka conducted its premiere in Prague.
Dvořák entered the Austrian Prize competition again in 1877, submitting his Moravian Duets and other music, possibly his Piano Concerto. He did not learn the outcome until December. Then, he received a personal letter from the music critic Eduard Hanslick, who had also been on the juries awarding the prizes. The letter not only notified Dvořák that he had again won the prize, but made known to him for the first time that Brahms and Hanslick had been on the jury. The letter conveyed an offer of friendly assistance of the two in making Dvořák’s music known outside his Czech motherland. Within the month December 1877, Dvořák wrote his String Quartet no. 9 in D minor and dedicated it to Brahms. Both Brahms and Hanslick had been much impressed by the Moravian Duets, and Brahms recommended them to his publisher, Simrock, who published them with success. Having in mind Brahms’s well-received Hungarian Dances, Simrock commissioned Dvořák to write something of the same nature. Dvořák submitted his Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 in 1878, first for two pianos, but when requested by Simrock, also in an orchestral version. These were an immediate and great success. On December 15, 1878, the leading music critic Louis Ehlert in the Berlin “Nationalzeitung” published a review of the Moravian Duets and Slavonic Dances, saying that the “Dances” would make their way “round the world” and “a heavenly naturalness flows through this music.” “There was a run on the German music shops for the dances and duets of this hitherto … unknown composer.” The dances were played in 1879 in concerts in France, England, and the United States.
In 1879 Dvořák wrote his String Sextet. Simrock showed the score to the leading violinist Joseph Joachim, who with others premiered it in November of that year. Joachim became a “chief champion” of Dvořák’s chamber music. Also in 1879, Dvořák had written his Violin Concerto. In December he dedicated the piece to Joachim and sent him the score. The next spring the two discussed the score and Dvořák revised it extensively, but Joachim was still not comfortable with it and apparently never was. The concerto was premiered in Prague in October 1883 by the violinist František Ondraček, who also played it in Vienna with conductor Hans Richter in December of that year. Twice later, Joachim was scheduled to play the concerto, but both times the arrangements fell through and he never did play it.
The conductor Hans Richter asked Dvořák to compose his Symphony No. 6 for the Vienna Philharmonic, intending to premiere it in December 1880. However, Dvořák later discovered that, despite this intention, members of the orchestra objected to performing works by the composer in two consecutive seasons, due to “anti-Czech feeling.” Adolf Čech therefore conducted the premiere of the symphony at a concert of the Philharmonia society (in Czech: spolek Filharmonie, predecessor of the Czech Philharmonic) on March 25, 1881, in Prague. Richter did eventually conduct the piece in London in 1882 and still retained an interest in Dvořák’s compositions.
Dvořák’s Stabat Mater (1880) was performed and very well received at the Royal Albert Hall in London on March 10, 1883, conducted by Joseph Barnby. The success “sparked off a whole series of performances in England and the United States”, a year ahead of appreciation in Germany and Austria. Dvořák was invited to visit England where he appeared to great acclaim in 1884. The Royal Philharmonic Society of London commissioned Dvořák to conduct concerts in London, and his performances were well received there. In response to the commission, Dvořák wrote his Symphony No. 7 and conducted the premiere of the symphony at St. James’s Hall on April 22, 1885. On a visit later in 1885, Dvořák presented his cantata The Spectre’s Bride, in a concert August 27. He had arrived a week early to conduct rehearsals of the chorus of 500 voices and orchestra of 150. The performance was “a greater triumph than any” Dvořák “had had in his life up to that time…following this phenomenal success, choral societies in the English-speaking countries hastened to prepare and present the new work.” Dvořák visited England nine times in total, often conducting his own works there. In 1887, Richter conducted the Symphonic Variations in London and Vienna to great acclaim (they had been written ten years earlier and Dvořák had allowed them to languish after initial lack of interest from his publishers). Richter wrote to Dvořák of the London performance, “at the hundreds of concerts I have conducted during my life, no new work has been as successful as yours.” But a performance of Stabat Mater in Vienna, in February 1888, fell victim to more anti-Czech feeling and what Dvořák called “destructive criticism.” He heartily thanked Richter for his “courage and devoted sympathy.”
In 1890, influenced by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Dvořák also visited Russia, and conducted the orchestras in Moscow and in St. Petersburg. In 1891, Dvořák received an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, and was offered a position at the Prague Conservatory as professor of composition and instrumentation. At first he refused the offer, but then later accepted; this change of mind was seemingly a result of a quarrel with his publisher, Simrock, over payment for his Eighth Symphony. His Requiem premiered later that year in Birmingham at the Triennial Music Festival.
The United States
From 1892 to 1895, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. He began at a then-staggering $15,000 annual salary. Emanuel Rubin describes the Conservatory and Dvořak’s time there. The Conservatory had been founded by Jeannette Thurber, a wealthy and philanthropic woman, who made it open to women students as well as men and to blacks as well as whites, which was unusual for the times. Dvořák’s original contract provided for three hours a day of work, including teaching and conducting, six days a week, with four months’ vacation each summer. The `Panic of 1893,’ a severe economic depression, depleted the assets of the Thurber family and other patrons of the Conservatory. In 1894 Dvořák’s salary was cut to $8000 per year and moreover was paid only irregularly. The Conservatory was located at 126–128 East 17th Street, but was demolished in 1911 and replaced by what is today a high school.
Dvořák’s main goal in America was to discover “American Music” and engage in it, much as he had used Czech folk idioms within his music. Shortly after his arrival in America in 1892, Dvořák wrote a series of newspaper articles reflecting on the state of American music. He supported the concept that African-American and Native American music should be used as a foundation for the growth of American music. He felt that through the music of Native Americans and African-Americans, Americans would find their own national style of music. Here Dvořák met Harry Burleigh, his pupil at the time and one of the earliest African-American composers. Burleigh introduced Dvořák to traditional American spirituals.
In the winter and spring of 1893, Dvořák was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to write Symphony No.9, “From the New World”, which was premiered under the baton of Anton Seidl, to tumultuous applause. Clapham writes that “without question this was one of the greatest triumphs, and very possibly the greatest triumph of all that Dvořák experienced” in his life, and when the Symphony was published it was “seized on by conductors and orchestras” all over the world.
Dvořák spent the summer of 1893 with his family in the Czech-speaking community of Spillville, Iowa, to which some of his cousins had earlier immigrated. While there he composed the String Quartet in F (the “American”), and the String Quintet in E-flat, as well as a Sonatina for violin and piano. He also conducted a performance of his Eighth Symphony at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago that same year.
In the winter of 1894-1895, Dvořák wrote his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191, completed in February 1895. However, his partially unpaid salary, together with increasing recognition in Europe – he had been made an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna – and a remarkable amount of homesickness made him decide to return to Bohemia. He informed Thurber that he was leaving. Dvořák and his wife left New York before the end of the spring term with no intention of returning.
Dvořák’s New York home was located at 327 East 17th Street, near the intersection of what is today called Perlman Place. It was in this house that both the B minor Cello Concerto and the New World Symphony were written within a few years. Despite protests, from Czech President Václav Havel amongst others, who wanted the house preserved as a historical site, it was demolished in 1991 to make room for a Beth Israel Medical Center residence for people with AIDS. To honor Dvořák, however, a statue of him was erected in nearby Stuyvesant Square.
Brahms continued to try to “clear a path for” Dvořák, “the only contemporary whom he considered really worthy.” While Dvořák was in America, Simrock was still publishing his music in Germany, and Brahms corrected proofs for him. Dvořák said it was hard to understand why Brahms would “take on the very tedious job of proofreading. I don’t believe there is another musician of his stature in the whole world who would do such a thing.”
Return to Europe and last years
Dvořák, his wife and Otakar returned from the United States on April 27, 1895, and he was careful to avoid spreading the news about his return. However, after a performance of Dimitrij at the National Theater on May 19, Dvořák fled to Vysoká. Dvořák’s first love and later sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzová, née Čermáková, died in May 1895. He and she had maintained friendly relations over the years. After her death he revised the coda of his Cello Concerto in her memory. During Dvořák’s final years, he concentrated on composing opera and chamber music. In October 1895, he resumed his professorship at the Prague Conservatory. Between 1895 to 1897, he completed his string quartets in A-flat major and G major, and also worked on the cycle of symphonic poems inspired by the collection Kytice by Karel Jaromír Erben. His chamber works directly influenced the establishment of the Czech Quartet (1891). As seen from Burghauser (1960), in 1896 Dvořák wrote his five Symphonic Poems, but after that completed few works per year, mainly operas: Jakobín in 1896, nothing in 1897, only The Devil and Kate in 1898/99, Rusalka in 1900, two songs and “Recitatives” in 1900/01, and finally the opera Armida in 1902/3. Rusalka became the most popular of all Dvořák’s ten operas and gained an international reputation (below under Works, Operas).
In 1896 he visited London for the last time to conduct the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor by the London Philharmonic. Also in 1896, Brahms tried to persuade Dvořák, who had several children, to move to Vienna. Brahms said he himself had no dependents and “If you need anything, my fortune is at your disposal”. Clapham writes “Dvořák was deeply moved and tears came to his wife’s eyes, but it was quite impossible for him, a Czech, to contemplate leaving Bohemia.”
In 1897 Dvořák’s daughter Otilie married his student, the composer Josef Suk. In the same year, Dvořák was appointed a member of the jury for the Viennese Artists’ Stipendium, and was later honored with a medal. In April 1901, he became a member of the Austro-Hungarian House of Lords, along with the leading Czech poet Jaroslav Vrchlický. He also succeeded Antonín Bennewitz as director of the Prague Conservatory from November 1901 until his death. Dvořák’s 60th birthday was celebrated as a national event, with concerts and a banquet organized in his honor. His final performance as conductor with the Czech Philharmonic took place on April 4, 1900. Due to illness, he missed the performances of his oratorio Saint Ludmila, the violin concerto (solo part played by František Ondříček), and the New World Symphony at the ‘First Czech Music Festival’ held in April 1904 in Prague.
Dvořák died on May 1, 1904, of an undiagnosed cause, following five weeks of illness, at the age of 62, leaving many unfinished works. His funeral service was held on May 5, and his ashes were interred in the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague, beneath a bust by Czech sculptor Ladislav Šaloun.
Dvořák had been an admirer of Wagner’s music since 1857. Around 1870, Dvořák created some of his most important works influenced by Wagner and Neoromanticism, such as the opera Alfred and string quartets in B-flat major, E minor and D major. Dvořák was passionate about his homeland. Many of his compositions, such as the Slavonic Dances and his large collection of songs, were directly inspired by Czech, Moravian, and other Slavic traditional music. His major works reflect his heritage and the love he had for his native land. Dvořák followed in the footsteps of Bedřich Smetana, the composer who created the modern Czech musical style. Dvořák’s third symphony (1873) remained under Wagner’s influence, but from then on Dvořák’s style was “moving steadily in the direction of classical models.” To be more specific about “classical models”, in 1894 Dvořák wrote an article in which he said the composers of the past he admired most were Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. As the article was specifically on Schubert, three years in advance of the centennial of Schubert’s birth, it seems Dvořák had a special predilection toward Schubert.
The “Slavic period” in Dvořák’s work was directly influenced by the political situation in Bohemia of his time. In the late 1870s, after the unsuccessful attempts to resolve the political and legal status of the Czech people in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, he decided to support the national liberation movement and focused on expressing his feelings using elements of Slavic folk music in his compositions. In the third movement of his String Quartet in D major, he uses as the main theme melody of the patriotic song Hej, Slované (Hey, Slavs), which was at that time banned by the Austrian authorities and whose public singing and performances were severely punished.
As the basis for his works, Dvořák frequently used folk dance forms, such as odzemek, furiant, mazurka, polonaise or Serbian Kolo, and also folk song forms of Slavic peoples, such as dumka. The influence is most significantly apparent in his Slavonic Dances, Three Slavonic Rhapsodies (1878), orchestral Polonaise (1879), Quartet in E-flat major (1879, nicknamed “Slavonic”), Symphony in D major and the opera Dimitrij (1882).
Hear the Music
Song to the Moon (Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém)
From Rusalka (1901). Performed in German by Czech soprano Emmy Destinn in 1915.
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Dvořák wrote in a variety of forms: his nine symphonies generally stick to classical models, but he also worked in the newly developed form of symphonic poem. Many of his works show the influence of Czech genuine folk music, both in terms of elements such as rhythms and melodic shapes; amongst these are the two sets of Slavonic Dances, the Symphonic Variations, and the overwhelming majority of his songs, but echoes of such influence are also found in his major choral works. Dvořák also wrote operas (of which the best known is Rusalka); serenades for string orchestra and wind ensemble; chamber music (including a number of string quartets and quintets); and piano music.
While a large number of Dvořák’s works were given opus numbers, these did not always bear a logical relationship to the order in which they were either written or published. To achieve better sales, some publishers such as N. Simrock preferred to present budding composers as being well established, by giving some relatively early works much higher opus numbers than their chronological order would merit. In other cases, Dvořák deliberately provided new works with lower opus numbers to be able to sell them outside contract obligations to other publishers. An example is the Czech Suite which Dvořák didn’t want to sell to Simrock, and had published with Schlesinger as Op. 39 instead of Op.52. In this way it could come about that the same opus number was given to more than one of Dvořák’s works; for example the opus number 12, which was assigned, successively, to: the opera King and Charcoal Burner (1871), the Concert Overture in F (1871, derived from the opera), the String Quartet No. 6 in A minor (1873), the Furiant in G minor for piano (1879), and the Dumka in C minor for piano (1884). In yet other cases, a work was given as many as three different opus numbers by different publishers.
The sequential numbering of his symphonies has also been confused: (a) they were initially numbered by order of publication, not composition; (b) the first four symphonies to be composed were published after the last five; and (c) the last five symphonies were not published in order of composition. This explains why, for example, the New World Symphony was originally published as No. 5, was later known as No. 8, and definitively renumbered as No. 9 in the critical editions published in the 1950s.
All of Dvořák’s works were chronologically catalogued by Jarmil Burghauser. As an example, in the Burghauser catalogue, the New World Symphony, Op. 95, is B.178. Scholars today often refer to Dvořák’s works by their B numbers (for Burghauser), partly because many early works do not have opus numbers. References to the traditional opus numbers are still common, in part because the opus numbers have historical continuity with earlier scores and printed programs. The opus numbers are still more likely to appear in printed programs for performances.
During Dvořák’s life, only five of his symphonies were widely known. The first published was his sixth, dedicated to Hans Richter. After Dvořák’s death, research uncovered four unpublished symphonies, of which the manuscript of the first had even been lost to the composer himself. This led to an unclear situation in which the New World Symphony has alternately been called the 5th, 8th and 9th. This article uses the modern numbering system, according to the order in which they were written.
With their broadly lyrical style and accessibility to the listener, Dvořák’s symphonies seem to derive from the Schubertian tradition; but, as Taruskin suggests, the great difference was Dvořák’s use of “cyclic” form, especially in his later symphonies (and indeed concertos), whereby he “occasionally recycled themes from movement to movement to a degree which lent his works a tinge of secret ‘programmaticism’.”
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 3, was written in 1865 when Dvořák was 24 years old and it was later subtitled The Bells of Zlonice, referring to the time Dvořák from ages 13 to 16 had spent in the village of Zlonice and in the church there. Like the Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 4, also in 1865, it is, despite touches of originality, too wayward to maintain a place in the standard symphonic repertory.
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 10 (c. 1873), shows the impact of Dvořák’s recent acquaintance with the music of Richard Wagner. This influence is less evident in Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 13, except for the start of the second movement.
Symphony No. 5 in F major, Op. 76, and Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60, are largely pastoral in nature. The Sixth, published in 1880, shows a resemblance to the Symphony No. 2 of Brahms, particularly in the outer movements, though this similarity is belied by the third-movement furiant, a vivid Czech dance. This was the symphony that made Dvořák internationally known as a symphonic composer.
Symphony No. 7 in D minor of 1885, Op. 70, was written when Dvořák was struggling to have his Czech operas accepted in Vienna, feeling pressure to write operas in German.
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, is characterized by a warmer and more optimistic tone. Karl Schumann (in booklet notes for a recording of all the symphonies by Rafael Kubelík) compares it to the works of Gustav Mahler.
Hear the Music
Largo – Second Movement from Dvořák’s Symphony No.9
Performed by the Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (Reinhold Behringer) with digital samples (Garritan Personal Orchestra 4).
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Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95,is also known by its subtitle, From the New World, or as the New World Symphony. Dvořák wrote it between January and May 1893, while he was in New York. At the time of its first performance, he claimed that he used elements from American music such as spirituals and Native American music in this work, but he later denied this. In an article published in the New York Herald on December 15, 1893, he wrote, “[In the 9th symphony] I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music.” Neil Armstrong took a recording of the New World Symphony to the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission, the first Moon landing, in 1969, and in 2009 it was voted the favourite symphony in a poll run by ABC Classic FM in Australia.
Many conductors have recorded cycles of the symphonies, including Karel Ančerl, István Kertész, Rafael Kubelík, Otmar Suitner, Libor Pešek, Zdeněk Mácal, Václav Neumann, Witold Rowicki, and Neeme Järvi.
Adolf Čech premiered more of Dvořák’s symphonies than anyone else. He conducted the first performances of Nos. 2, 5 and 6; the composer premiered Nos. 7 and 8; Bedřich Smetana led Nos. 3 and 4; Anton Seidl conducted No. 9; and Milan Sachs premiered No. 1.
Dvořák’s symphonic poems (tone poems) are among his most original symphonic works. He wrote five symphonic poems, all in 1896–1897, and they have sequential opus numbers: The Water Goblin, Op. 107; The Noon Witch, Op. 108; The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109; The Wild Dove, Op. 110; and A Hero’s Song, Op. 111. The first four of these works are based upon ballads from the collection Kytice by the Czech folklorist Karel Jaromír Erben. A Hero’s Song is based on a program of Dvořák’s devising and is believed to be autobiographical.
To Dvořák’s main choral works belong his setting of Stabat Mater (the longest extant setting of that work), his Requiem, his setting of the Te Deum and his Mass in D major.
The Stabat Mater, Op. 58, is an extensive (c. 90 minutes) vocal-instrumental sacred work for soli (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), choir and orchestra based on the text of an old church hymn with the same name. The first inspiration for creating this piece was the death of the composer’s daughter, Josefa.
Antonín Dvořák composed his Requiem in 1890, at the beginning of the peak period of his career. Dvořák was a deeply religious man, and this work reflects his faith and spirituality. The premiere of the work took place on October 9, 1891 in Birmingham, conducted by Dvořák himself. The greatest success was probably its performance in Vienna in 1900, where Dvořák achieved a major triumph, in contrast to a previously hostile Viennese audience.
The Te Deum, Op. 103, is a cantata for soprano and baritone solo, choir and orchestra to the Latin text of the famous hymn Te Deum (God, we laud You). It was composed in 1892 and dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. The composition had been completed before Dvořák moved to America and was commissioned by Jeanette Thurber in 1891, when the composer accepted a position as director of her school. The composition, which is on a more intimate scale than the Stabat Mater and Requiem, was premiered at Dvořák’s first concert in New York on October 21, 1892.
The Mass in D major (originally numbered as Op. 76, finally as Op. 86) was originally intended for organ, solo voices and small choir. The work was given its final shape in the year 1892 when, in response to a request from the Novello publishers of London, Dvořák arranged his Mass for a symphony orchestra.
Other choral works by Dvořák include: The Spectre’s Bride and his oratorio Saint Ludmila.
The writer Harold C. Schonberg suggested that Dvořák wrote “an attractive Piano Concerto in G minor with a rather ineffective piano part, a beautiful Violin Concerto in A minor, and a supreme Cello Concerto in B minor”. All the concerti are in the classical three-movement form.
The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G minor, Op. 33 was the first of three concerti that Dvořák composed and orchestrated, and it is perhaps the least known of those three.
The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 53 was the second of the three concerti that Dvořák composed and orchestrated. He had met the great violinist Joseph Joachim in 1878 and decided to write a concerto for him. He finished it in 1879, but Joachim was skeptical of the work. The concerto was premiered in 1883 in Prague by the violinist František Ondříček, who also gave its first performances in Vienna and London.
The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B minor, Op. 104 was the last composed of Dvořák’s concerti. He wrote it in 1894–1895 for his friend the cellist Hanuš Wihan. Wihan and others had asked for a cello concerto for some time, but Dvořák always refused, stating that the cello was a fine orchestral instrument but completely insufficient for a solo concerto. Dvořák composed the concerto in New York while serving as the Director of the National Conservatory. In 1894 Victor Herbert, who was also teaching at the Conservatory, had written a cello concerto and presented it in a series of concerts. Dvořák attended at least two performances of Victor Herbert’s cello concerto and was inspired to fulfill Wihan’s request for a cello concerto. Dvořák’s concerto received its premiere in London on March 16, 1896, with the English cellist Leo Stern. The reception was “enthusiastic.” Brahms said of the work: “Had I known that one could write a cello concerto like this, I would have written one long ago!” Not only did Harold Schonberg call the cello concerto “supreme”, the cellist and author Robert Battey wrote “I believe it to be the greatest of all cello concertos…an opinion shared by most cellists”. A compiler of discographies of Dvořák’s music wrote that his is the “king” of cello concertos.
Over thirty years earlier in 1865, Dvořák had composed a Cello Concerto in A major, but with accompaniment by piano rather than orchestra. It is believed Dvořák had intended to orchestrate it, but abandoned it. It was orchestrated by the German composer Günter Raphael between 1925 and 1929, and again by his cataloguer Jarmil Burghauser and was published in this form in 1952 as B.10.
Hear the Music
Romance Op. 75, No. 1
Performed by Roxana Pavel Goldstein (violin) and Monica Pavel (piano)
Romance Op. 75, No. 3
Performed by Roxana Pavel Goldstein (violin) and Monica Pavel (piano)
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Over a period of almost 30 years, Dvořák’s output of chamber music was prolific and diverse, composing more than 40 works for ensembles with strings.
In 1860 just after he finished his education at the Organ school, Dvořák composed his String Quintet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 1. Two more would follow, of which the String Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 77 from early 1875, is noteworthy for the use of a double bass. It was written for a chamber music competition sponsored by the Umělecká beseda (Artistic Circle), where it was unanimously awarded the prize of five ducats for the “distinction of theme, the technical skill in polyphonic composition, the mastery of form and the knowledge of the instruments” displayed. The String Quintet No.3 in E♭ major, Op. 97, with a second viola added, was written near the end of his output for chamber ensemble during his American period in 1893, when he spent a summer holiday in Spillville, Iowa.
Within a year after completing his first string quintet, Dvořák completed his String Quartet No. 1 in A major, Op. 2, the first of his fourteen string quartets. For some time Dvořák was very tentative in his approach to quartets. In the 1880s Dvořák made a list of compositions he had destroyed, which lists two quartets and 2 other quartets. He may well have destroyed the scores, but only after the individual instrumental parts had been copied out. The number of errors in the parts makes it highly unlikely that he actually had them played. The quartets numbered 2 to 4 were probably composed between 1868 and 1870 and show the strong influence of the music of Richard Wagner. Dvořák kept the manuscripts of these quartets but did not give them opus numbers. They have numbers B.17, B.18, and B.19 in the Burghauser catalog. An Andante religioso from his fourth quartet was used five years later in his second string quintet Op. 77, as a second movement named Intermezzo: Nocturne, making this a five-movement composition.
In 1873 Dvořák’s life turned for the better: he married Anna Čermáková, and he had his first great success with his cantata Dědicové bilé hory (The Heirs of the White Mountain). The two Quartets he wrote in this year show a stronger sense of form. The composition of his String Quartet No. 5 in F minor, Op. 9, B.37,came at a time of mood extremes: success with the cantata, the acceptance of his second opera for rehearsal by Smetana, and his marriage, but also the setback of the total failure of the opera rehearsals, and the ultimate rejection of the work.
His most popular quartet is his twelfth, the American, Op. 96. He also composed two piano quintets, both in A major, of which the second, Op. 81, is the better known. He left a Terzetto for two violins and viola (Op. 74); two piano quartets, a string sextet; Op. 48; and four piano trios, including the Piano Trio No. 4 (subtitled Dumky), Op. 90. He also wrote a set of Bagatelles, Op. 47, for the unusual instrumentation of two violins, cello, and harmonium, two waltzes for string quartet, and a set of twelve love songs arranged for quartet, taken from his set of 18 songs originally composed in 1865 entitled Cypresses.
In a 1904 interview, Dvořák claimed that opera was ‘the most suitable form for the nation’. If this nationalist sentiment was at the heart of his opera compositions, he also struggled to find a style straddling Czech traditional melody and the grand opera style of Giacomo Meyerbeer, which he experienced as lead viola player in the orchestra of Prague’s Provisional Theatre between 1862 and 1871, and whose influence is very evident in his works such as Vanda and Dimitrij. His later interest in the music of Richard Wagner also affected his operas, evident in the very extensive rewrite of Dmitirij in 1894, following its failure at Vienna.
Of all his operas, only Rusalka, Op. 114, which contains the well-known aria “Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém” (“Song to the Moon”), is played on contemporary opera stages with any frequency outside the Czech Republic. This is attributable to their uneven invention and libretti, and perhaps also their staging requirements — The Jacobin, Armida, Vanda and Dimitrij need stages large enough to portray invading armies.
There is speculation by Dvořák scholars such as Michael Beckerman that portions of his Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”, notably the second movement, were adapted from studies for a never-written opera about Hiawatha.
The song cycle of 10 Biblical Songs, op.99, was written in March 1894. It was at this time Dvořák was informed of the death of the famous conductor, and his close personal friend, Hans von Bülow. Just a month earlier, he had been grieved to hear that his father was near death, far away in Bohemia. Dvořák consoled himself in the Psalms. The resulting work, considered the finest of his song cycles, is based on the text of Czech Bible of Kralice. As fate would have it, his father expired 2 days after the completion of the work.
Another well known cycle is the seven Gypsy Songs (Czech Cikánské melodie) B. 104, Op. 55 which includes “Songs My Mother Taught Me” (the fourth of the set).
Dvořák created many other songs inspired by Czech national traditional music, such as the “Love Songs”, “Evening Songs”, etc.
From other important works, that show also the influence of Czech folk music, both in terms of rhythms and melodic shapes; perhaps the best known examples are the two sets of Slavonic Dances, written in two series. The first book, Op. 46 (1878), is predominantly Czech in respect to the forms represented. They were created for piano duet (one piano, four hands), but Dvořák proceeded to orchestrate the entire set, completing that version the same year. The second book, Op. 72 (as well as previous composed originally for piano) which came along nine years later, includes forms native to such other Slavic lands as Serbia, Poland and Ukraine.
Dvořák, however, in dealing with his own native idiom, did not use actual folk tunes in his dances, but created his own themes in the authentic style of traditional folk music, using only rhythms of original folk dances.
A work that does not fit into any of the above categories is the Symphonic Variations of 1877, the first set of orchestral variations on an original theme to be composed as a freestanding work. Originally unsuccessful and revived only after ten years, it has since established itself in the repertoire.
Influence in America
Dvořák had a prominent role to play in the development of American music. The second half of the nineteenth century saw a blossoming of national styles, as countries looked to their cultural roots to celebrate their heritage through music that evoked these themes and folk melodies. Dvořák supported Cecil Sharp in England in his efforts to collect and encourage English Folk Music as a conduit for national renewal. He found the inspiration he needed for American music in the melodies of Native and African Americans. In his opinion, these were the melodies that would contribute most heavily to the foundation of an American musical style. Dvořák was introduced to African American spirituals through his friendship with Harry Burleigh, one of his students who later became his personal assistant. Burleigh shared with Dvořák many of the songs his grandfather used to sing to him, and Dvořák encouraged Burleigh to transcribe and perform many of these melodies. Burleigh’s performances of these native melodies would later influence musicians like Marian Anderson.
Antonín Dvořák’s career in America served as an impetus in the development of an American style of music that influenced future generations. His challenge to American musicians, as well as his American-inspired pieces, served as a model for many composers. Some of these, such as Amy Beach and William Grant Still, took his suggestion to heart and tried to find their own manner of creating an American music. He simply helped in the formation of an American style, a process that would continue through the students he instructed and into the ensuing decades as American music developed its own identity.
In 1943, an American Liberty ship of the U.S. Navy was named USNS Antonín Dvořák in his honor.
- Beckerman, Michael B. (1993). Dvořák and His World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03386-2.
- Beckerman, Michael B. (2003). New Worlds of Dvořák: Searching in America for the Composer’s Inner Life. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-04706-7.
- Burghauser, Jarmil (2006). Antonín Dvořák (in Czech). Prague: Bärenreiter Supraphon; Koniasch Latin Press. ISBN 80-86791-26-2.
- Burghauser, Jarmil (1960, 1966, 1996), Antonin Dvořák Thematický Katalog [Thematic Catalogue], Export Artia (1960); Bārenreiter Supraphon (1966,1996), Prague, in Czech, with notes in German and English. Includes a bibliography, co-edited by Dr. John Clapham and Dr. W. Pfannkuch, and a Survey of Life and Work. If there is a reference to one edition and the reader has access only to another edition, the catalogue numbers such as B.178 for the New World Symphony will probably be more useful than page numbers.
- Butterworth, Neil (1980). Dvořák, his life and times. Midas Books. ISBN 0-859-36142-X.
- Brown, A. Peter (2003). The symphonic repertoire, Volume 3, Part 1. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 410–436. ISBN 0-253-33488-8.
- Clapham, John (1966,1969,1979), Antonín Dvořák, Musician and Craftsman, London, St. Martin’s Press or Faber&Faber (1966), MacMillan (reprinting 1969), ISBN 0-333-23111-2 or St. Martin’s, ISBN 0312045158; 1979, Newton Abbot (England), David and Charles, ISBN 0-7153-7790-6. The 1979 edition will be referred to as “UK” to distinguish it from the author’s other biography of Dvořák published in 1979 in the US (Norton).
- Clapham, John (1979). Dvořák. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-01204-2.
- Clapham, John (1995), ‘Dvořák, Antonín (Leopold)’, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. London:MacMillan ISBN 0-333-23111-2. Vol. 5, pp. 765–792.
- Černušák, Gracián (ed.); Štědroň, Bohumír; Nováček, Zdenko (ed.) (1963). Československý hudební slovník I. A-L (in Czech). Prague: Státní hudební vydavatelství. Cite uses deprecated parameters (help)
- Dvořák, Antonín; Šourek, Otakar (preface) (2009). Biblické písně (in Czech, German, English, French). Prague: Editio Bärenreiter. ISBN 979-0-2601-0463-1. Cite uses deprecated parameters (help)
- Gal, Hans (1971), Johannes Brahms: His Work and Personality, translated by Joseph Stein, Knopf, New York.
- Goepp, Philip Henry (1913). Symphonies and their meaning: Third series: Modern symphonies. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company.
- Honolka, Kurt (2004). Dvořák. London: Haus Publishing. ISBN 1-904341-52-7.
- Horowitz, Joseph (2003). Dvořák in America: In Search of the New World. Cricket Books. ISBN 0-812-62681-8.
- Hurwitz, David (2005). Dvořák: Romantic Music’s Most Versatile Genius. Unlocking the Masters. Milwaukee: Amadeus Press. ISBN 1-574-67107-3.
- Peress, Maurice (2004). Dvorák to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America’s Music and Its African American Roots. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509822-6.
- Schönzeler, Hans-Hubert (1984). Dvořák. London, New York: Marion Boyars Publishers. ISBN 0-7145-2575-8.
- Smaczny, Jan. (2003) ‘Grand Opera Amongst the Czechs’ in The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera ed. David Charlton, pp. 366–382. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-052-164683-3
- Steinberg, Michael (1995). The Symphony: A Listener’s Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506177-2.
- Taruskin, Richard (2010). Music in the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-019-538483-3.
- Tibbets, John C. (ed.) (1993), Dvořák in America, Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, ISBN 0-931340-56-X
- Yoell, John H. (1991), Antonín Dvořák on Records, New York: Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-27367-7
- Comprehensive Dvořák site
- List of Dvořák’s works
- Dvořák on Schubert “The Century”, Volume 0048 Issue 3 (July 1894)
- Collection of news articles and correspondence about Dvořák’s stay in America
- Antonín Dvořák Recordings at the Internet Archive
- in the International Music Score Library Project
- Works by or about Antonín Dvořák in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- The Mutopia Project has compositions by Antonín Dvořák
|Name||Dvořák, Antonín Leopold|
|Alternative names||Dvořák, Antonín (common name)|
|Short description||Czech composer|
|Date of birth||1841-09-08|
|Place of birth||Nelahozeves, Austrian Empire|
|Date of death||1904-05-01|
|Place of death||Prague, Austria-Hungary|