Nelahozeves, Prague, 1841 - Prague, 1904

Antonín Dvořák

The life of Dvořák, one of the greatest Czech composers, alongside Smetana, was spent mostly in his hometown of Prague, with two important interludes: one in England and one in the USA; and an equally important friendship with Johannes Brahms, who helped him to spread his music throughout Europe (the Slavonic Dances were composed around the model of the Hungarian Dances of the composer of Hamburg). Dvořák travelled to the United Kingdom for the first time in 1884, where he directed his Stabat Mater op. 58, the Requiem, Op 89, and the Seventh and the Eighth Symphonies, in addition to some important works for a few British choral societies. A little less than a decade later took up the position of director of the Conservatoire in New York. Here he met Henry ‘Harry’ Burleigh a black singer, composer and arranger who introduced him to the world of spirituals and hence the pentatonic scale, which he later used in the Ninth Symphony, called From The New World, one of his most famous compositions, and perhaps one of the most famous compositions of the entire classical repertoire, along with quartet op. 96 (called the American quartet) and string quintet Op. 97. The first movement of his Ninth Symphony was inspired by a well-known spiritual, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, whose theme returns as a leitmotif throughout the entire work along with some other rewritten themes taken from the Native American culture, for which the Bohemian composer had a great curiosity. Whilst in America, inspired by the performance of a concerto for cello and orchestra, he wrote the Cello Concerto in B minor (1895) which become one of the most famous concertos for the instrument and contains many interesting American elements. The signature style of the composer comes somewhere between  the tradition of Brahms and the innovation of Wagner (which we can see particularly in the symphonic poems), but always remains well anchored, in terms of both form and rhythm, to popular Czech music. In his vast corpus of compositions, in addition to the aforementioned nine Symphonies (of which the seventh is also notable), he wrote five Symphonic Poems (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), two concertos and a Rondo for cello and orchestra, one for piano and one for violin. The famous orchestral sets of Slavonic Dances (Op. 46 and 72) are very memorable along with a beautiful Serenade for Strings op.22. Amongst his sacred compositions, in addition to the aforementioned Stabat Mater (1876-77), he wrote an Oratory (St. Ludmila, 1885-6), a Mass, a Te Deum and a Requiem. He even left us a rich variety of chamber music which consists of 14 string quartets (including the famous American Op. 96), three string quintets, a sextet, 4 trios for violin cello and piano (most famously the Fourth, op. 90, called Dumky) among others. He also composed some operatic repertoire of which the Rusalka of 1901 is of note.

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