Antonín Dvořák

From Wind Repertory Project
Antonín Dvořák


Antonín Dvořák (8 September 1841, Nelahozeves - 1 May 1904, Prague) was a Czech composer.

Dvořák lived in America for only three years (1892-1895), but left us musical masterpieces with an American flare that have endured the test of time. Jeannette M. Thurber, a New York society leader and arts patron (who had established the National Conservatory of Music of America) requested Antonin to come to America and serve as Director of the National Conservatory of Music. He accepted and arrived in New York on September 27, 1892. Thurber hired Dvořák to teach, conduct, and write music in New York.

During this time period, Dvořák tried to sort out some theories about the possibilities of music in the New World. He wanted to write music that would represent America. Many of his works from Bohemia were rooted in simple, half-forgotten tunes of the peasants. Since America was a melting pot of nationalities and there was not a true folk culture to draw upon, he turned to the Negro spirituals and plantation songs to inspire him.

He missed his friends and younger children, and was not happy in Manhattan, however. He complained frequently of poor health and preferred to spend his evenings with his English tutor, secretary and friend, Josef J. Kovarik whom Dvořák met while Josef was studying music in Prague. His home was Spillville, Iowa. It was Josef who persuaded Dvořák, when lonesome for Bohemia, to come to his hometown in Spillville to see the real America instead of taking his family back to Bohemia during the summer months. Dvořák accepted and gladly sent for the remainder of his family to spend the summer of 1893 together in the Czech-speaking village of Spillville.

Dvořák liked Spillville and the surrounding towns as they reminded him of his home. He had come from peasant stock, (the son of a butcher from Nelahozoves), and maintained a rural retreat south of Prague in Vysoka, near Pribram. While in Spillville, he touched up the orchestrations of the ‘’New World Symphony’’, completed a new work, the ‘’String Quartet in F Major’’ and composed a chamber work in July, the ‘’String Quartet in E-flat.’’The second movement of this quartet contained echoes of a group of Algonquin Indians who performed some of their native dances for Dvořák during his Spillville visit.

After the summer, Dvořák returned to New York and worked on the ‘’New World Symphony’’ with Anton Seidl, the New York Philharmonic's German conductor. The piece was first performed December 15, 1893. It was reviewed as one of the great symphonies performed since the death of Beethoven, and critics analyzed its "American-ness". Dvořák did not use actual melodies of the Negro or Indian cultures, but adapted them to his own original constructions.

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