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Antonin Dvorak

(1841 - 1904)

Dvorak was born on September 8, 1841 in Nelahozeves, near Prague.

His parents recognized his musical talent early, and he received his earliest musical education at the village school which he entered in 1847, age 6.

Then, in 1857, he attended the organ school in the city.

He was influenced by the Czech composer Smetana who directed the Opera Orchestra in which Dvorak played the viol.

Then, with the positive encouragement of Brahms, he devoted most of his life to composition.

Later he became a professor of composition at the Prague Conservatoire.

From 1892 until 1895 he served as the director of the new National Conservatory in New York City, America, a period in which his compositions show his deep interest in American folk music.

He made several trips to England where he was very popular and much admired.

He received many honors in his own country and resisted invitations by Brahms to move to Vienna where he was only grudgingly accepted.

Dvorak died in 1904, shortly after the first performances of his last opera, "Armida".

Dvorak wrote nine operas, the first in 1870 and the last completed and staged in 1903. "Rusalka", first produced in 1900, provides a well known concert aria, "O silver moon".

Dvorak wrote nine symphonies of which the best known is the Symphony n. 9, "From the New World", written in 1893 and first performed in New York in the same year.

This "New World Symphony" derived some inspiration from a Czech translation of Longfellow's poem "Hiawatha".

His works for solo instrument and orchestra include an important Cello Concerto, a Violin Concerto and a slightly less well known Piano Concerto.

The Romance for solo violin and orchestra, and "Silent Woods" for cello and orchestra, make interesting and attractive additions to solo repertoire for both instruments.

Other orchestral works include two sets of "Slavonic Dances", arrangements of works originally designed for piano duet, and three "Slavonic Rhapsodies".

Overtures include "My Home", "In Nature's Realm", "Othello", "Hussite and Carnival".

To this one may add the "Scherzo capriccioso" of 1883, a Polonaise, written 4 years before, and the splendid Serenade for Strings of 1875.

The "Symphonic Variations" meet the challenge of an apparently intractable theme and the 10 Legends were orchestrated by the composer from his original piano duet version.

To this may be added the symphonic poems "The Noonday Witch", "The Golden Spinning-Wheel" and "The Wild Dove", works that seem to explore new ground, with their narrative content.

Dvorak left 14 string quartets, of which the best known is the so-called "American Quartet", n. 12 in F Major, written in 1893, the year of the Symphony from the New World.

The composition of Quartets ns. 13 and 14, in 1895, probably took place during the same period.

From the American period comes the G major Sonatina for violin and piano, its second movement sometimes known as Indian Lament.

Of the four surviving piano trios the fourth, nicknamed the Dumky because of its use of a Bohemian national dance-form, is the best known, closely rivaled in popularity by the third.

Dvorak's quintets for piano and strings or strings alone offer further pleasure, with the String Sextet and the charming Terzetto for two violins and viola.

The best known of all the pieces Dvorak wrote for the piano must be the Humoresque in G flat major, the seventh of a set of eight.

Close to this come the two sets of Slavonic Dances for piano duet.

Dvorak wrote a number of songs and a popular set of Moravian Duets for soprano and contralto.

The most popular of the songs is the fourth of Seven Gypsy Songs, Op. 55, "Songs My Mother Taught Me".


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