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6.12: Music of Antonín Dvořák

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    Antonín Dvořák (b. 1841-1904) was born in a Bohemian village of Nelahozeves near Prague. Following in Smetana’s footsteps, Dvořák became a leading com- poser in the Czech nationalism music campaign. Indeed, Dvořák and Smetana are considered the founders of the Czech national school. Dvořák, at the age of sixteen, moved to Prague. As a young aspiring violinist, Dvořák earned a seat in the Czech national Theater. Dvořák learned to play viola and became a professional violist; for a time in his career, he performed under Smetana. Dvořák became recognized by Brahms who encouraged Dvořák to devote his energy to composing. Early in his career he was musically under the German influence of Beethoven, Brahms, and Mendelssohn. Later, however, Dvořák explored his own culture, rooting his music in the dances and songs of Bohemia. Indeed, he never lost touch with his humble upbringing by his innkeeper and butcher father.

    Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 11.33.24 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Antonín Dvořák by Unknown. Source: Wikimedia

    Dvořák’s compositions received favorable recognition abroad and reluctant recognition at home. From 1892 to 1895, Dvořák served as director of the National Conservatory in the United States. During this time his compositions add- ed American influences to the Bohemian. He fused “old world” harmonic theory with “new world” style. Very interested in American folk music, Dvořák took as one of his pupils an African-American baritone singer named Henry T. Burleigh who was an arranger and singer of spirituals. To hear Harry T. Burleigh sing the spiritual “Go Down Moses,” go to 7Jx0. Dvořák’s admiration and enthusiasm for the African-American spiritual is conveyed as he stated,

    I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.(footnote 3)

    footnote 3 Gutmann, Peter. “Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony”. Classical Classics. Classical Notes. Retrieved 2012-09-09.

    The spirituals, along with Native American and cowboys songs, interested Dvořák and influenced his compositions for years to come. His love for this American folk music was contagious and soon spread to other American composers. Up until this point, American composers were under the heavy influence of their European counterparts. Dvořák’s influence and legacy as an educator and composer can be traced in the music of Aaron Copland and George Gershwin. Although he gained much from his time in America, Dvořák yearned for his homeland to which he returned after three years away, resisting invitations from Brahms to relocate in Vienna. Dvořák desired the more simple life of his homeland where he died in 1904, shortly after his last opera, Armida, was first performed.

    6.14.1 Music For Orchestra

    During his lifetime, Dvořák wrote in various music forms, including the sym- phony. He composed nine symphonies in all, with his most famous being the ninth, From the New World (1893). This symphony was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic who premiered it in New York on December 16, 1893, the same year as its completion. The symphony was partially inspired from a Czech translation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Hiawatha.

    Dvořák also composed a cello concerto for solo instrument and orchestra, a violin concerto, and a lesser known piano concerto. Dvořák received recognition for Romance for solo violin and orchestra and Silent Woods for cello and orchestra. These two pieces make significant contributions to the solo repertoire for both string instruments.

    Dvořák composed several piano duets that he later orchestrated for symphony orchestra. They include his ten Legends, two sets of Slavonic Dances, and three Slavic Rhapsodies. His overtures include In nature’s realm, My Home, Carnival, Hussite, and Othello. He also composed a polonaise Scherzo capriccioso and the much admired Serenade for Strings. His symphonic poems poems include The World Dove, The Golden Spinning-Wheel, and The Noonday Witch.

    6.14.2 Music For Chamber Ensembles

    Dvořák also composed chamber music, including fourteen string quartets. No 12, the “American” Quartet, was written in 1893, the same year as the New World Symphony. Also from the American period, Dvořák composed the G major Sonatinas for violin and piano whose second movement is known as “Indian Lament.” Of the four remaining found Dvořák piano trios, the Dumky trio is famous for using the Bohemian national dance form. His quintets for piano and strings or strings alone for listening enjoyment are much appreciated, as are his string sextet and the trio of two violins and viola, Terzetto.

    Humoresque in G-flat major is the best known of the eight Dvorak’s piano pieces placed in a set. He also composed two sets of piano duets entitled Slavonic Dances.

    6.14.3 Operas

    From 1870 to 1903, Dvořák wrote ten operas. The famous aria ‘O Silver Moon’, 1900) from Rusalka is one of his most famous pieces. Dvořák wrote many of his operas with village theatres and comic village plots in mind—much the same as Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. Other opera were based upon Czech legend.

    6.14.4 Choral and Vocal Works

    Several of Dvořák’s choral works were composed for many of the amateur choral societies such as those found in Birmingham, Leeds, and London in England. The oratorio St. Ludmilla was composed for such societies, as were settings of the Mass, Requiem Mass, and the Te Deum which was first performed in 1892 in New York. Earlier choral works and settings, such as Stabat Mater and Psalm CXLIX, were performed in Prague 1879-1880.

    Dvořák composed several songs, including the appreciated set of Moravian Duets for soprano and contralto. The most famous of his vocal pieces is the “Songs My Mother Taught Me” which is the fourth in the Seven Gypsy Songs, opus 55, set.

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:

    Composer: Antonin Dvorak
    Composition: From the New World, Symphony 9, movement 2 Largo
    Date: 1893
    Genre: Symphony Orchestra
    Performing Forces: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir George Solti, conductor

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • The theme. The “coming home theme” is said to possibly be from a negro spiritual or Czech folk tune. It is introduced in what some call the most famous English horn solo.

    Other things to listen for:

    • The weaving of these very beautiful but simple melodies. Listen to how “western American” the piece sounds at times. The influence of American (western, spirituals, and folk) had a profound influence on Dvorak’ compositions.

    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture
    0:00 Brass choral with string chord transition
    0.45 English horn solo (theme 1) then woodwind transition to brass chords.
    1:41 Theme is passed around then returns to English horn
    5:34 Flute and oboe perform theme 2 over string tremolo, then clarinet duet above pizzicato strings. String then perform theme 2 to a transition
    8:10 Theme/melody 3 played by violins-very smooth and connected
    9:21 Oboe, clarinet , then the flute perform yet another theme, violins, cellos and basses-Light folk dance style in nature
    9:47 Trombones enter with the first theme from the first movement-then trumpets and strings overlap with other earlier themes from the work. These style and compositional techniques create a very “western” sounding work.
    10:28 English horn solo reintroduced followed by imitations in the strings (two silences) then scored reduction to a trio
    11:40 Violin, viola, and cello trio. Transition in winds and strings
    12:59 Opening chords without trumpets it is much darker sounding
    13:29 Winds and strings pass the melodies around with ascension
    13:51 Final three part chord in the double basses

    You are encouraged to listen the entire symphony. For more information and a narrative guided tour of the Symphony no. 9 “From the New World”, go to:

    • Antonín Dvořák: Symphony no. 9 “From the New World” analysis by Gerard Schwarz Part 1 First movement: www.khanacademy. org/partner-content/all-star-orchestra/masterpieces-old-and-new/ dvorak-symphony-9/v/dvorak-one
    • Antonín Dvořák: Symphony no. 9 “From the New World” analysis by Gerard Schwarz Part 2 Second Movement: www.khanacademy. org/partner-content/all-star-orchestra/masterpieces-old-and-new/ dvorak-symphony-9/v/dvorak-two
    • Antonín Dvořák: Symphony no. 9 “From the New World” analysis by Gerard Schwarz Part 3 Third Movement: www.khanacademy. org/partner-content/all-star-orchestra/masterpieces-old-and-new/ dvorak-symphony-9/v/dvorak-three
    • Antonín Dvořák: Symphony no. 9 “From the New World” analysis by Gerard Schwarz Part 4: content/all-star-orchestra/masterpieces-old-and-new/dvorak- symphony-9/v/dvorak-four
    • Another interpretation of the “From the New World”, a commentary (from literature) by Joseph Horowitz: partner-content/all-star-orchestra/masterpieces-old-and-new/dvorak- symphony-9/v/joseph-horowitz-on-dvorak-minilecture

    This page titled 6.12: Music of Antonín Dvořák is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Clark, Heflin, Kluball, & Kramer (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.