Antonín Dvorák

Biography

Born: 1841   Died: 1904   Country: Czechoslovakia   Period: Romantic
Widely regarded as the most distinguished of Czech composers, Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904) produced attractive and vigorous music possessed of clear formal outlines, melodies that are both memorable and spontaneous-sounding, and a colorful, effective instrumental sense. Dvorák is considered one of the major figures of nationalism, both proselytizing for and making actual use of folk influences, which he expertly combined with Classical forms in Read more works of all genres. His symphonies are among his most widely appreciated works; the Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World," 1893) takes a place among the finest and most popular examples of the symphonic literature. Similarly, his Cello Concerto (1894-1895) is one of the cornerstones of the repertory, providing the soloist an opportunity for virtuosic flair and soaring expressivity. Dvorák displayed special skill in writing for chamber ensembles, producing dozens of such works; among these, his 14 string quartets (1862-1895), the "American" Quintet (1893) and the "Dumky" Trio (1890-1891) are outstanding examples of their respective genres, overflowing with attractive folklike melodies set like jewels into the solid fixtures of Brahmsian absolute forms.

Dvorák's "American" and "New World" works arose during the composer's sojourn in the United States in the early 1890s; he was uneasy with American high society and retreated to a small, predominantly Czech town in Iowa for summer vacations during his stay. However, he did make the acquaintance of the pioneering African-American baritone H.T. Burleigh, who may have influenced the seemingly spiritual-like melodies in the "New World" symphony and other works; some claim that the similarity resulted instead from a natural affinity between African-American and Eastern European melodic structures.

By that time, Dvorák was among the most celebrated of European composers, seen by many as the heir to Brahms, who had championed Dvorák during the younger composer's long climb to the top. The son of a butcher and occasional zither player, Dvorák studied the organ in Prague as a young man and worked variously as a café violist and church organist during the 1860s and 1870s while creating a growing body of symphonies, chamber music, and Czech-language opera. For three years in the 1870s he won a government grant (the Viennese critic Hanslick was among the judges) designed to help the careers of struggling young creative artists. Brahms gained for Dvorák a contract with his own publisher, Simrock, in 1877; the association proved a profitable one despite an initial controversy that flared when Dvorák insisted on including Czech-language work titles on the printed covers, a novelty in those musically German-dominated times. In the 1880s and 1890s Dvorák's reputation became international in scope thanks to a series of major masterpieces that included the Seventh, Eighth, and "New World" symphonies. At the end of his life he turned to opera once again; Rusalka, from 1901, incorporates Wagnerian influences into the musical telling of its legend-based story, and remains the most frequently performed of the composer's vocal works. Dvorák, a professor at Prague University from 1891 on, exerted a deep influence on Czech music of the twentieth century; among his students was Josef Suk, who also became his son-in-law. Read less

Dvorák: Piano Quintet, Piano Quartet / Pressler, Emerson Qt
Release Date: 05/10/1994   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 439868   Number of Discs: 1
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Tchaikovsky, Dvorák: Serenades / Berglund, New Stockholm Co
Release Date: 03/25/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 243   Number of Discs: 1
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Janácek: Sinfonietta;  Dvorák: Legends / Järvi, Bamberg
Release Date: 09/26/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 436   Number of Discs: 1
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Dvorák: Symphonies Nos 7 & 8 / Chung, Gothenburg So
Release Date: 09/26/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 452   Number of Discs: 1
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Dvorák: Symphonic Poems, Overtures / Kuchar
Release Date: 03/01/2005   Label: Brilliant Classics  
Catalog: 92297   Number of Discs: 3
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Work: Songs My Mother Taught Me (Als die alte Mutter)

 

About This Work
Dvorák's Gypsy Melodies is a cycle of 10 songs composed for the tenor Gustav Walter, who sang with the Vienna Court Opera and was a great admirer of Dvorák. The composer used Walter's own German translations of the original Czech texts Read more as the basis of his settings. While exact dates for these songs are unknown, it is thought that they were written in just a few day at the end of February 1880. The songs display Dvorák's ever-increasing skill at vocal composition; their vocal melodies are supple and natural, and the piano accompaniment is often interesting -- vivacious and dance-like. Despite the cycle's title, the songs are not written in an authentic gypsy idiom, but they do reflect in general the character of gypsy music, filtered through Dvorák's own compositional style.

-- Alexander Carpenter, All Music Guide Read less

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