xxxxxThe Czech Antonín Dvorák, a prolific composer, gained international fame with his lively Slavonic Rhapsodies and Dances of 1878 and 1886. Assisted in his career by the German composer Johannes Brahms, whom he met in 1873, he became the first Bohemian composer to gain worldwide recognition and, together with his countryman Bedrich Smetana, was a founder of Czech national music. He composed in all forms, but excelled in orchestral works and church and chamber music. His music, full of enchanting melody and largely based on the folk songs and dances of his homeland, proved highly patriotic at a time when there was a strong political movement for independence from Austrian rule. Today, however, he is particularly remembered for his New World Symphony, produced in 1893 during a three year visit to the United States, and containing themes from the melodies of the deep South and American-
ANTONÍN LEOPOLD DVORÁK 1841 -
Dvorák: engraving, date and artist unknown – Muzeum Antonina Dvoraka, Prague, Czech Republic. Brahms: by the Austrian painter Ludwig Michalek (1859-
xxxxxThe Czech composer Antonín Dvorák gained international recognition with his two sets of infectious Slavonic Rhapsodies and Dances of 1878 and 1886. He became one of the most versatile and admired composers of his time. Much of his music -
xxxxxDvorák was born at Nelahozeves, a Bohemian village just north of Prague, where his father was an inn-
xxxxxOn completion of the two-
xxxxxWith the support and advice of his mentor Brahms, his music steadily gained popularity. His Moravian Duets for soprano and contralto, composed in 1876, were well received, and international fame came two years later with his vivacious Slavonic Rhapsodies and Dances. Taken straight from the music of his own country, these lively and expressive pieces were highly praised by the leading critics and musicians of the day. Fervently nationalistic, they captivated audiences at home, and spread Bohemian dance forms abroad, be it the polka, the fiery furiant or the dumka with its slow, melancholy passages. They were followed by a number of notable works, including Serenade for Wind Instruments, the first of his string quartets, his powerful sixth symphony, his Violin Concerto and his Scherzo Capriccioso, a selection of colourful “musical sweetmeats”.
xxxxxDvorák made his first visit to England in 1884 to conduct his moving Stabat Mater, (premiered in Prague in 1880). This work was well received, and in subsequent visits he conducted a number of works composed for the English, including his seventh symphony for the Philharmonic Society in 1885, the oratorio St. Ludmilla for the city of Leeds in 1886, and his Requiem Mass for Birmingham in 1890. And in 1890 he paid a triumphal visit to Moscow to attend two concerts arranged for him by his friend Pyotr Tchaikovsky. His visits to the United Kingdom added to his reputation in the United States, and in 1892 he accepted an invitation to become the director of the newly established National Conservatory of Music, based in New York. He held this post for three years and spent some time in the Czech colony of Spillville in Iowa. It was while in America that he produced his now famous New World Symphony (his ninth) a work full of melody which captures in part the spiritual melodies of the deep South and the characteristic themes of American-
xxxxxDvorák returned to his beloved Bohemia in 1895, and his final years saw the completion of his Cello Concerto, his delightful piano cycle Humoresques, and a number of string quartets and symphonic poems. In 1901 he was appointed director of the Prague Conservatory, and in the same year the fairy tale Rusalka, the most successful of his ten operas, was staged at the Prague National Theatre. He spent much of his time on his country estate at Vysoka, bought in 1885, but died in Prague -
xxxxxEssentially, Dvorák’s music was in the classical tradition of Beethoven and Brahms, but his early works were also influenced by Richard Wagner, whom he met when playing in the orchestra of the Prague National Opera. His compositions had an inexhaustible supply of melodic wealth, and, based as they were on the tunes and rhythms of the folk songs and dances of his homeland, they expressed his love of Bohemia at the very time when there was a strong political desire for freedom from Austrian rule -
xxxxxAlong with his fellow countryman Bedrich Smetana, who also had a passionate love for his homeland, he helped to lay the foundations of the Czech nationalist movement in music. It was Smetana, 17 years his senior, who, as we have seen, founded that movement, but it was Dvorák, by the beauty and spontaneous freshness of his music, who popularised it. There are sad and serious moments to be found in his work, but in general his compositions are fresh and optimistic, and some are lively to say the least. And running through them all is the constant reminder of his great talent for rhythm and melody.
xxxxxDvorák came from humble, peasant stock, and despite the international fame he achieved, he remained a modest man of the people. He was devoted to his family, had a deep love of nature, and -
xxxxxIncidentally, his Stabat Mater was a particularly distressful piece for Dvorák personally. It was while working on this religious cantata that he lost all three of his then living children. His daughter Josefa died two days after birth in 1875, and both his 11-
xxxxx…… The Slavonic Dances were originally written as piano duets. Soon after their composition however -
xxxxx…… Dvorák made two triumphant tours of the United States, and he gained much from them. “This country”, he commented, “is full of melody, original, sympathetic and varying in mood, colour and character to suit every phase of composition.” ……
xxxxx…… In 1890 the University of Prague conferred upon him a Doctorate of Philosophy. In gratitude Dvorák dedicated his next work, his exuberant Carnival Overture, to the university. A carnival -
xxxxx…… This statue of Dvorák is in front of the Rudolfinum Music Hall in the centre of Prague, the city he loved and served so well.