antonín Dvorák

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Dvořák, antonín

 

Born Sept. 8, 1841, in the village of Nelahozeves on the Vltava, near Prague; died May 1, 1904, in Prague. Czech composer.

Dvořák imbibed the national music tradition in childhood, studying with a local teacher (the church organist and composer, the so-called cantor). From 1854 to 1857 he studied music theory, viola, piano, and organ with A. Liehmann in Zlonice; in 1857 and 1858 he was a student at the Organ School in Prague. He played viola in one of the Prague chamber orchestras and from 1862, in the orchestra of the Provisional Theater. His early compositions (a string quintet, 1861; a quartet, 1862) already reflected the original features of the Czech folk song. The folk character of the music and patriotic subject matter of his cantata Hymnus (text from V. Hálek’s The Heirs of the White Mountain; composed in 1872; premiere, 1873) gained Dvořák the attention of the general public. In 1873 he became friends with J. Brahms, who valued his creative work highly and effected the publication of his works. Among Dvořák’s compositions of the 1870’s are several operas, the Moravian Duets, Stabat Mater, and the first series of the Slavonic Dances for orchestra, the premier performance of which he himself conducted (he also conducted these works abroad). In the 1880’s he wrote most of his major works, including four symphonies, the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1880), the My Home (1882) and Husitská (1883) overtures, the st. Ludmila Oratorio (1886; the first oratorio in the history of Czech music), instrumental chamber and choral works, the second series of the Slavonic Dances (1886), and other works. The content of the majority of them is connected with the idea of the struggle of the Czech people and the exploits of national heroes. In 1888 in Prague, Dvořák became acquainted with P. I. Tchaikovsky, on whose invitation he visited Russia in 1890, conducting his own works in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In the 1890’s, Dvořák began involving himself in social activities of a musical nature and teaching. (V. Novák, O. Nedbal, and J. Suk were some of his pupils.) He received an honorary doctorate from Charles University and became a member of the Czech Academy of Science and Arts in 1890; in 1891 he became a professor at the Prague Conservatory and in 1901, its director; from 1892 to 1895 (with an interruption) he was director of the National Conservatory in New York. His stay in the USA made many impressions on him, which he expressed in his last and most mature symphony, the heroic and dramatic Symphony No. 9, subtitled From the New World (premiere in New York, 1893); in it he utilized some Negro and Indian rhythmic and melodic motives in combination with elements from Slavic, specifically Czech, folk songs. One of the founders of national Czech classical music, Dvořák, like B. Smetana, incorporated into his creative work pictures of the Bohemian landscape and the life of the Czech people (cycle of six piano duets From the Bohemian Forest; pieces for piano Poetic Pictures) and motives from fairy tales and popular legend (opera The Devil and Kate, 1899; symphonic poems on themes from Czech folk tales and legends, including The Water Sprite, The Midday Witch, and The Wood Dove, all written in 1896, and Hero’s Song, 1897).

Dvořák’s operas constitute the foundation of the national Czech operatic repertoire. His works in this genre include The Pigheaded Peasants (1874) and The Peasant a Rogue (1877), which treat of the everyday life of the people; Rusal-ka, a lyrical fairy tale set to music, one of the most popular of all Czech operas (premiere in 1901); The Jacobin (premiere in 1889); Dimitrij (composed in 1882), with a theme based on an event in Russian history, though with an idealized portrait of the pretender; and Armida, based on T. Tasso’s work (premiere in 1904). The symphonic and instrumental compositions are Dvořák’s most important contribution to world music. The close tie with the melodic elements and rhythm of the Czech folk song as conveyed in the oral tradition of the peasantry was particularly clearly manifested in his adaptations of Slavic (Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Polish, and Ukrainian) dances in Slavonic Dances (for orchestra and for piano duet) and Slavonic Rhapsodies, both of which reflected the melodic and rhythmic originality of the musical art of the Slavic peoples. The ties with the Slavic song and music for dance are felt also in the large number of instrumental pieces for chamber ensembles, including the “Dumky” Trio. Vividly national in coloring, Dvořák’s compositions, in which the essential qualities of the song and dance of Czech folklore are assimilated and employed, are distinguished by balanced form, melodic richness, rhythmic and harmonic diversity, and highly colorful orchestration; many of them are attractive because of their joie de vivre, warm lyricism, and humor. Since 1963 in Czechoslovakia at the annual International Prague Spring Festival, the A. Dvořák Cello Competition has been held. Since 1955 the complete edition of Dvořák’s musical works has been undergoing publication in Prague, and it will be completed in the early 1970’s. Dvořák’s works include ten operas, an oratorio, cantatas, sacred compositions (including a mass and requiem), nine symphonies, five symphonic poems (1896–97), five overtures, a serenade for strings (1875), a piano concerto (1876), a violin concerto (1880), a cello concerto (1895), instrumental and vocal ensembles, piano pieces, choruses, and songs.

REFERENCES

Needly, Z. “A. Dvorzhak.” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, Sept. 11, 1941.
Belza, I. Antonin Dvorzhak. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949.
Belza, I. “Posledniaia simfoniia Dvorzhaka.” Muzykal’ naia zhizn’, 1969, no. 6.
Smirnov, M. Fortepiannoe tvorchestvo A. Dvorzhaka. Moscow, 1960.
Lushina, Ia. Dvorzhak.Leningrad, 1961.
Dvorzhak ν pis’makh i vospominaniiakh. Moscow, 1964. (Introductory article by I. Belza and commentary by O. Ŝourek and I. Belza; translated from Czech.)
Antonin Dvorzhak: Sb. St. Moscow, 1967.
Ŝourek, O. život a dílo Antonína Dvořáka, vols. 1–4. Prague, 1954–57.
Hughes, G. Dvořák: His Life and Music. New York, 1967.

I. F. BELZA

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