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

Work: Carnival Overture, Op. 92

 

About This Work
In many ways, the 1890s represented for Dvorák a time of creative and personal renaissance. It was during this decade that he made his first forays into the New World, the direct result of which included the production of a wealth of Read more American-inflected chamber music as well as the composer's best-known work, the Symphony No. 9 (1893). The latter proved to be Dvorák's final essay in that form, signaling, perhaps, his increasing interest in other genres. In addition to the operatic stops and starts that occupied much of the composer's attention in the 1890s, Dvorák produced a substantial body of self-contained orchestral works in the guise of overtures and tone poems.

The Carnival Overture, Op. 92 (1891), was the second of a group of three works by the composer collectively titled "Nature, Life, and Love." An operatic spirit -- one is struck by certain Carmen-esque flashes, for example -- informs the overture throughout, as does a prevailing ebullience and stomping, folk dance-like energy. A brief central Andantino con moto episode of sedate, almost nocturnal character is distinguished by more expansive melodies and the use of the English horn, one of Dvorák's favorite instruments, in an unusual role: sounding an ostinato accompaniment rather than the melody proper. The overture ends in a spirit similar to that in which it begins, aptly embodying the festal atmosphere suggested by its title.

-- Michael Rodman, All Music Guide Read less

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