Antonín Dvořák, the greatest Czech and Romantic composer of all time, is known for creating some of the most beautiful symphonies in the history of music. A style which is often known as romantic-classicist synthesis, his wide range of works includes symphonies, choral music, chamber music, operas and concerts. Flying high from the most modest beginnings of Czech lands of central Europe, he travelled all across the world with his beautiful music, even while feeling proud to be born as a Czech. The creativity and progressiveness, which earned him distinction even during his life span, took his success stories even to countries like Australia and America, where he left a huge footprint. This exponent of Czech musical nationalism based his style on the rhythmic patterns of folk music of his nation. One who is best remembered for those memorable melodies which possess instrumental sense, no wonder he is considered as one of the best among the European composers.
Antonin Dvorák's Early Life And Childhood
Dvorak was born on September 8, 1841, in Nelahozeves, near Prague, a Bohemian village (the place was then part of Bohemia in Austria and now a part of Czech Republic) to Frantisek and Anna. Baptized as a Roman catholic in St. Andrew church in the village, his early years in Nelahozeves influenced his strong catholic faith and his love towards the bohemian heritage, which made a deep impact on his music. His father was a professional player of zither, an inn keeper as well as a butcher. Though his father wanted him to be a butcher, Dvorak decided to pursue a career in music. He entered a village school in 1847 at the age of six in order to receive some early education in music. Grasping the lessons in violin quickly, he started playing in village and church bands. In 1853, he was send to Zlonice to continue his education in German as well as music. Dvorak also attended classes in violin, organ, voice, music theory and piano. He also studied music in Prague Organ School from 1857 to 1859, where he attended classes on counterpoint, improvisation, music theory and other important aspects of composition. He penned his first string quartet when he was 20 years old, which was two years after graduation.
Marriage And Career
Dvorak had grown into a fulltime musician by the time he became 18. All through 1860’s, he was a viola player in Bohemian Provisional theatre Orchestra where he earned about $7.50 in a month. In a constant effort to earn more, he also gave piano lessons. These piano lessons paved the way for him to meet his wife. It all started when he fell in love with his student, Josefína Čermáková, for whom he composed the work, ‘Cypress Trees’. However, his love was never returned as she married another man. In 1873, Dvorak married Anna, Josephina’s sister with whom he fathered nine children. Three of them died in infancy.
The marriage ended his eleven year old stint with National Theatre Orchestra as Dvorak joined as an organist in St. Adalbert’s church in Prague. The job provided him with financial stability, higher social status and ample free hours to devote more time into composing. In 1875, came his second string quintet; the year also saw the birth of his first son. This year happened to be one of the most productive years as he composed 5th Symphony, String Quintet No. 2, Piano Trio No. 1 and Serenade for Strings in E. In 1877, the critic Eduard Hanslick told him that his music had attracted the attention of Johannes Brahms of whom Dvorak was a great admirer. Brahms made a great influence on Dvorak’s works, when two of them became life-long friends later. Brahms took the initiative to contact Simrock, one of the most popular European publishers of that time; the result was, Dvorak’s works composed in 1875 were published and became an instant success. Dvořák’s work, ‘Stabat Mater' (1880) had its performance abroad and after it was successful performed in London in 1893, he was invited to England. His Symphony No.7 was premiered in London in 1885 and in whole, Dvorak visited London nine times, even conducting his works there.
Flourishing Of The Career
The 1890’s saw him visiting Russia and conducting orchestras in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In 1891, he was given an honorary degree by the University of Cambridge and was offered the position of Professor of Instrumentation and composition at the Prague conservatory. Though he refused the offer initially, he accepted it, mainly due to a quarrel, which broke out between him and his publisher Simrock. His work, ‘Requiem’ had its premiere later in the same year at the Triennial Music Festival in Birmingham.
Antonin Dvorak’s great admiration for ethnicities and folk melodies attained him the attention of originator of National Conservatory of Music in New York City, Jeanette Thurber, who was on his way to create a typical American music style. Offering a staggering annual pay of $15,000, he persuaded Dvorak to become the director of the conservatory for three years, from 1892. Upon reaching America, he took up the task of discovering American music to his heart. He wrote plenty of articles supporting the concept of using African-American and Native American music as a base for the growth of American music. What he felt was that through this, the Americans would uncover and expand their own approach of music.
During 1893, while in New York, Dvorak wrote Symphony No.9, "From the New World", which is regarded as one of the most beautiful and listened to symphonies. The year of 1895 saw him writing his Cello Concerto in B minor. However, issues related to salary, increased popularity in Europe and homesickness forced him to return to Bohemia. Informing Mrs. Thurber, who still owed him his salary, Dvorak along with his wife left United States. However, deeply inspired by the sounds of United States, he left behind a great legacy through his music for the people of America, before he returned. During this time, he was also made an honorary member of Society of Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Music Friends in Vienna).
Later Phases And Death
After returning from America, he spent most of his time with the family. The final phases enabled him to focus on composing opera and chamber music. In 1896, he visited London for the last time for the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor. During this time, Dvorak was honoured as a member of the jury for the Viennese Artist’s Stipendium and later conferred a medal. He also became the Director of conservatory of Prague in 1901, the position which he continued till his death. His 60th birthday was a national event with banquets and concerts being conducted in his honour. On May 1, 1904, Antonín Dvořák passed away following a heart failure, after five weeks of illness. His cremation was on May 5 in Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague.
The contributions of Dvorak came in a variety of forms including nine symphonies, which stuck to the classical style that Beethoven recognised. Most of his works are deeply influenced by Czech folk music, in terms of rhythms and melodic shapes. Though the most perfect examples are two sets of Slavonic dances and majority of songs, the influence can be felt even in his choral works. Dvorak also wrote operas, serenades for string orchestra, chamber music, choral music, songs and piano music.
The lists of Antonín Dvořák works are numerous. Some of them include:
- Sym.no.1, c, ‘Bells of Zlonice’ (1865)
- Sym.no.2, B♭ (1865)
- Sym.no.3, E♭ (1873)
- Sym.no.4, d (1874)
- Sym.no.5, F (1875)
- Sym.no.6, D (1880)
- Sym.no.7, d (1885)
- Sym.no.8, G (1889)
- Sym.no.9, e, ‘From the New World’ (1893)
- Pf Conc., g (1876)
- Vn Conc., a (1880), Vc Conc., b (1895)
- Sym.Variations (1877)
- Scherzo capriccioso (1883)
- 8 ovs.
- 2 serenades (str, E, 1879 wind, d, 1878)
- 3 Slavonic Rhapsodies (1878)
- 2 sets of Slavonic Dances (orig.for pf duet, 1878, 1886)
- 5 sym.poems (1896-7)
- 3 str qnts (incl. op.97, E♭, 1893)
- 14 str qts (incl. op.51, E♭, 1879
- op.61, C, 1881
- op.96, F, 1893
- op.105, A♭, 1896
- op.106, G, 1895)
- StrSextet, op.48 (1878)
- 6 pf trios (incl. op.65, F, 1883
- op.90, e, ‘Dumky’, 1891)
- 2 pf qts(incl. op.87, E♭, 1889)
- 2 pf qnts(incl. op.81, A, 1887)
- Dimitrij (1882, 1894)
- The Jacobin (1889, 1898)
- Kate and the Devil (1899)
- Rusalka (1901)
- Armida (1904)
- Incidental Music
- Stabat mater (1877)
- The Spectre's Bride, cantata (1884)
- StLudmilla, oratorio (1886)
- Requiem (1890)