Sunday, September 8, 8841

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) - New World

Antonín Leopold Dvořák (September 8, 1841, Nelahozeves, Czech Republic [then part of the Austria Empire] - May 1, 1904) was born near Prague, where he spent most of his life. His father was a butcher, innkeeper, and professional player of the zither. Dvořák's parents recognized his musical talent early, and he received his earliest musical education at the village school which he entered in 1847, age 6. He studied music in Prague's only Organ School at the end of the 1850's, and gradually developed into an accomplished player of the violin and the viola.


Symphony No. 1 in C Minor (1865) was written when Dvořák was 24 years old. Later subtitled The Bells of Zlonice after a village in Dvořák's native Bohemia, it shows inexperience but also genius with its many attractive qualities. It has many formal similarities with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (for example, the movements follow the same keys: C minor, A flat major, C minor, C major), yet in harmony and instrumentation, Dvořák's ollows the style of Franz Schubert.(Some material from this symphony was reused in the Silhouettes, Opus 8, for piano solo).

Symphony No. 2 in B b Major, Op. 4 (1865), still takes Beethoven as a model, though this time in a brighter, more pastoral light.


Throughout the 1860's, Dvorak played viola in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra, which from 1866 was conducted by

Bedřich Smetana. The need to supplement his income by teaching left Dvořák with limited free time, and in 1871 he gave up playing in the orchestra in order to compose. During this time, Dvořák fell in love with one of his pupils and wrote a song cycle, Cypress Trees, in attempt to woo the heart of Josefína Čermáková. She married another man, however, and in 1873 Dvořák married her sister, Anna [!]. They had nine children [!!].


Symphony No. 3 in Eb Major, Op. 10 (1873), clearly shows the sudden and profound impact of Dvořák's recent acquaintance with the music of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt; there is no scherzo. (A portion of the slow movement was reused in the sixth of the Legends, Opus 59, for piano duet or orchestra.)

Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 13 (1874), still shows a strong influence of Wagner, particularly the second movement, which is reminiscent of the overture to Tannhäuser. In contrast, the scherzo is strongly Czech in character.


Symphony No. 4 (1874)


Symphony No. 5 in F Major, Op. 76 (1875), is largely pastoral and brushes away nearly all the last traces of Wagnerian style. The symphony's dark slow movement that seems to quote Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 for its main theme.


At about this time Dvořák began to be recognized as a significant composer. He became organist at St. Adalbert's Church, Prague, and began a period of prolific composition. Dvořák composed his second string quintet in 1875, and in 1877, the critic Eduard Hanslick informed him that his music had attracted the attention of Johannes Brahms, whom he later befriended.


Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 (1878): No. 1 in C


Brahms contacted the musical publisher Simrock, who as a result commissioned Dvořák's first set of Slavonic Dances. Published in 1878, these were an immediate success.


Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60 (1880) is, like 5, pastoral, and shows a very strong 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.


Dvořák's Stabat Mater (1880) was performed abroad, and after a successful performance in London in 1883, Dvořák was invited to visit England where he appeared to great acclaim in 1884. His Symphony No. 7 was written for London; it premiered there in 1885.


Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70 (1885), is sometimes reckoned to exhibit more formal tautness and greater intensity than the more famous 9. There is emotional torment in the Seventh that may reflect personal troubles: around this time, Dvořák was struggling to have his Czech operas accepted in Vienna, feeling pressure to write operas in German, and arguing with his publisher. His sketches show that the seventh cost him much hard work and soul-searching.

Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88 (1889), is, in contrast with 7, 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.

Symphony No. 8 (1889)


In 1891 Dvořák received an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, and his Requiem premiered later that year in Birmingham at the Triennial Music Festival.


From 1892 to 1895, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, at a $15,000 annual salary. The Conservatory had been founded by a wealthy and philanthropic socialite, Jeannette Thurber; it was located at 126-128 East 17th Street, but was demolished in 1911 and replaced by what is now a high school. Here Dvořák met with Harry Burleigh, one of the earliest African-American composers, his pupil. Burleigh introduced traditional American Spirituals to Dvořák at the latter's request.


Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World") (1894)

I Adagio; Allegro molto

II. Largo

III. Scherzo: Molto vivace

IV. Allegro con fuoco

Dvorak wrote the Symphony No. 9 in E Minor {"From the New World"), Op. 95 (1893), between January and May, 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. The first movement has a solo flute passage reminiscent of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and one of his students later reported that the second movement depicted, programmatically, the sobbing of Hiawatha. The second movement was so reminiscent of a negro spiritual that William Arms Fisher wrote lyrics for it and called it "Goin' Home." Dvořák was interested in indigenous American music, but 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.


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 ("American"), and the String Quintet in Eb, as well as a Sonatina for violin and piano.

String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 46: 1. Allegro ma non troppo

Over the course of three months in 1895, Dvořák wrote his Cello Concerto in B Minor.

However, problems with Mrs. Thurber about his salary, together with increasing recognition in Europe -- he had been made an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna -- and homesickness made him decide to return to Bohemia. He left New York before the end of the spring term.

Dvořák's New York home was located at 327 East 17th Street near Perlman Place.

It was in this home that the Symphony No. 9 was written. Despite protests, from the then Czech President Václav Havel amongst others, who wanted the house preserved as a historical site, it was demolished 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 Stuyvesant Square.

During his final years, Dvořák concentrated on composing opera and chamber music. In 1896 he visited London for the last time to hear the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor. In 1897 his daughter married his pupil, the composer Josef Suk. Dvořák was director of the Conservatory in Prague from 1901 until his death in 1904. His 60th birthday was celebrated as a national event.

He is interred in the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague, under his bust by Czech sculptor Ladislav Šaloun.

Dvořák wrote in a variety of forms: his nine symphonies generally stick to classical models that Beethoven would have recognised, but he also worked in the newly developed symphonic poem form and the influence of Richard Wagner is apparent in some works. Many of his works also show 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. Dvořák also wrote operas (the best known of which is Rusalka); serenades for string orchestra and wind ensemble; chamber music (including a number of string quartets, and quintets); songs; choral music; and piano music.

While the majority 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 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, the same opus number was given to more than one of Dvořák's works. In yet other cases, a work was given as many as three different opus numbers by different publishers. This understandably led to a great deal of confusion, which was exacerbated by the facts that: (a) his symphonies were initially numbered by order of publication, not composition; (b) the first four symphonies to be composed were not published until after the last five were published; and (c) not all of the last five symphonies were published in order of composition. This explains why, for example, the New World Symphony was originally published as No. 5, it was later known as No. 8, but definitively renumbered as No. 9 as part of cataloguing and new critical editions published in the 1950's.

All of Dvořák's works were chronologically catalogued by Jarmil Burghauser in Antonín Dvořák. Thematic Catalogue. Bibliography. Survey of Life and Work (Export Artia, Prague, 1960). 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), although references to the traditional opus numbers are still common, in part because the opus numbers have historical continuity with all earlier scores and printed programs. The opus numbers, in fact, 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.

Many conductors have recorded cycles of the symphonies, including István Kertész, Rafael Kubelík, Otmar Suitner, Libor Pešek, Zdenek Macal, Václav Neumann, Witold Rowicki, and Neeme Järvi.

[8842 Lyte - Row, Row / 8841 Dvorak / 8840 Tchaikovsky]