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Antonin Dvorak (Composer)

Early career
Dvorak was born on September 8, 1841 in Nelahozeves, near Prague (then Austrian Empire, today the Czech Republic), where he spent most of his life. His father was a butcher, innkeeper, and professional player of the zither. Dvorak`s parents recognized his musical talent early, and he received his earliest musical education at the village school which he entered in 1847, age 6. He studied music in Prague`s only Organ School at the end of the 1850s, and gradually developed into an accomplished player of the violin and the viola. Throughout the 1860s he played viola in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra, which from 1866 was conducted by Bedrich Smetana. The need to supplement his income by teaching left Dvorak with limited free time, and in 1871 he gave up playing in the orchestra in order to compose. During this time, Dvorak fell in love with one of his pupils and wrote a song cycle, Cypress Trees, in attempt to woo the heart of Josephina Cermakova. However in 1873 he married his pupil`s sister, Anna Cermakova. They had nine children.

At about this time Dvorak began to be recognized as a significant composer. He became organist at St. Adalbert`s Church, Prague, and began a period of prolific composition. Dvorak composed his second string quintet in 1875, and in 1877, the critic Eduard Hanslick informed him that his music had attracted the attention of Johannes Brahms, whom he later befriended. Brahms contacted the musical publisher Simrock, who as a result commissioned Dvorak`s Slavonic Dances. Published in 1878, these were an immediate success. Dvorak`s Stabat Mater (1880) was performed abroad, and after a successful performance in London in 1883, Dvorak was invited to visit England where he appeared to great acclaim in 1884. His Symphony No. 7 was commissioned for London; it premiered there in 1885. In 1891 Dvorak received an honorary degree from Cambridge University, and his Requiem Mass premiered later that year in Birmingham at the Triennial Music Festival.

America (1892–1895)
From 1892 to 1895, Dvorak was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, at a then-staggering $15,000 annual salary. The Conservatory had been founded by a wealthy and philanthropic socialite, Jeannette Thurber; it was located at 126-128 East 17th Street[1] [2], but was demolished in 1911 and replaced by what is now a high school. Here Dvorak met with Harry Burleigh, one of the earliest African-American composers, although Burleigh was never his pupil. Burleigh introduced traditional American Spirituals to Dvorak at the latter`s request.

In the winter and spring of 1893, while in New York, Dvorak wrote his most popular work, the Symphony No.9, "From the New World". He spent the summer of 1893 with his family in the Czech-speaking community of Spillville, Iowa, to which some of his cousins had earlier immigrated. While there he composed two of his most famous chamber works, the String Quartet in F (the "American"), and the String Quintet in E flat, as well as a Sonatina for violin and piano.

Over the course of three months in 1895, Dvorak wrote his Cello Concerto in B minor, which was to become one of his most popular works. However, problems with Mrs. Thurber about his salary, together with increasing recognition in Europe — he had been made an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna — and homesickness made him decide to return to Bohemia. He left New York before the end of the spring term.

Dvorak`s New York home was located at 327 East 17th Street near Perlman Place [3]. It was in this home that the Ninth Symphony was written. Despite protests, from the then Czech President Vaclav Havel amongst others, who wanted the house preserved as a historical site, it was demolished to make room for a Beth Israel Medical Center residence for people with AIDS. To honor Dvorak, however, a statue of him was erected in Stuyvesant Square [4] [2].

Later career
During his final years, Dvorak`s compositional work centred on opera and chamber music. In 1896 he visited London for the last time to hear the premiere of his Cello Concerto. In 1897 his daughter married his pupil, the composer Josef Suk. Dvorak was director of the Conservatory in Prague from 1901 until his death in 1904. He is interred in the Vysehrad cemetery in Prague.

Dvorak`s tomb in PragueHe left many unfinished works, including the early Cello Concerto in A major (see Concerti below).

See List of compositions by Antonin Dvorak and Category: Compositions by Antonin Dvorak
Dvorak wrote in a variety of forms: his nine symphonies generally stick to classical models that Beethoven would have recognised, but he also worked in the newly developed symphonic poem form and the influence of Richard Wagner is apparent in some works. Many of his works also show the influence of Czech folk music, both in terms of rhythms and melodic shapes; perhaps the best known examples are the two sets of Slavonic Dances. Dvorak also wrote operas (the best known of which is Rusalka); chamber music (including a number of string quartets, and quintets); songs; choral music; and piano music.

While the majority of Dvorak`s works were given opus numbers, these did not always bear a logical relationship to the order in which they were either written or published. To achieve better sales, some publishers such as Simrock preferred to present budding composers as being well established, by giving some relatively early works much higher opus numbers than their chronological order would merit. In other cases, the same opus number was given to more than one of Dvorak`s works. In yet other cases, a work was given as many as three different opus numbers by different publishers. This understandably led to a great deal of confusion, which was exacerbated by the facts that: (a) his symphonies were initially numbered by order of publication, not composition; (b) the first four symphonies to be composed were not published until after the last five were published; and (c) not all of the last five symphonies were published in order of composition. This explains why, for example, the New World Symphony was originally published as No.5, it was later known as No. 8, but definitively renumbered as No. 9 as part of cataloging and new critical editions published in the 1950s.

All of Dvorak`s works were chronologically catalogued by Jarmil Burghauser in Antonin Dvorak. Thematic Catalogue. Bibliography. Survey of Life and Work (Export Artia, Prague, 1960). As an example, in the Burghauser catalogue, the "New World" Symphony`, Op. 95 is B.178. [1]Scholars today often refer to Dvorak`s works by their B numbers (for Burghauser), although references to the traditional opus numbers are still common, in part because the opus numbers have historical continuity with all earlier scores and printed programs. The opus numbers, in fact, are still more likely to appear in printed programs for performances.

During Dvorak’s life only five of his symphonies were widely known. The first published was his 6th, dedicated to Hans Richter. After Dvorak’s death, research uncovered four unpublished symphonies, of which the manuscript of the first had even been lost to the composer himself. This led to an unclear situation in which the "New World" symphony has alternately been called the 5th, 8th and 9th. This article uses the modern numbering system, according to the order in which they were written.

Symphony No. 1 in C minor was written when Dvorak was only 24 years old. Later subtitled The Bells of Zlonice after a village in Dvorak`s native Bohemia, it shows inexperience but also genius with its many attractive qualities. It has many formal similarities with Beethoven`s 5th Symphony (for example, the movements follow the same keys: C minor, A flat major, C minor, C major), yet in harmony and instrumentation, Dvorak`s First follows the style of Franz Schubert. (Some material from this symphony was reused in the Silhouettes, Opus 8, for piano solo.)

Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 4, still takes Beethoven as a model, though this time in a brighter, more pastoral light.

Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 10, clearly shows the sudden and profound impact of Dvorak`s recent acquaintance with the music of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. (A portion of the slow movement was reused in the sixth of the Legends, Opus 59, for piano duet or orchestra.) There is no scherzo.

Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 13, still shows a strong influence of Wagner, particularly the second movement, which is reminiscent of the overture to Tannhauser. In contrast, the scherzo is strongly Czech in character.

Symphony No. 5 in F major, Op. 76, and Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60, are largely pastoral in nature, and brush away nearly all the last traces of Wagnerian style. The Fifth has a dark slow movement that seems to quote Tchaikovsky`s First Piano Concerto for its main theme. The Sixth shows a very strong resemblance to the Symphony No. 2 of Brahms, particularly in the outer movements, though this similarity is belied by the third-movement furiant, a vivid Czech dance.

Symphony No. 7 in D minor of 1885, Op. 70, is sometimes reckoned to exhibit more formal tautness and greater intensity than the more famous 9th Symphony. There is emotional torment in the Seventh that may reflect personal troubles: around this time, Dvorak was struggling to have his Czech operas accepted in Vienna, feeling pressure to write operas in German, and arguing with his publisher. His sketches show that the Seventh cost him much hard work and soul-searching.

Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, is, in contrast with the 7th, characterised by a warmer and more optimistic tone. Karl Schumann (in booklet notes for a recording of all the symphonies by Rafael Kubelik) compares it to the works of Gustav Mahler. As with the 7th, some feel the 8th is the best of the symphonies. That some critics feel it necessary to promote a symphony as "better than the 9th" shows how the immense popularity of the 9th has overshadowed the earlier works.

Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, may be better known by its subtitle, From the New World, and is also called the New World Symphony. Dvorak wrote it between January and May 1893, while he was in New York. At the time of its first performance, he claimed that he used elements from American music such as Spirituals and Native American music in this work, but he later denied this. The first movement has a solo flute passage reminiscent of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and one of his students later reported that the second movement depicted, programmatically, the sobbing of Hiawatha. The second movement was so reminiscent of a negro spiritual that William Arms Fisher wrote lyrics for it and called it Goin` Home. Dvorak was interested in indigenous American music, but in an article published in the New York Herald on December 15, 1893, he wrote "[In the 9th symphony] I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music." Neil Armstrong took a recording of the `New World` symphony to the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission, the first Moon landing, in 1969.[citation needed]

Many conductors have recorded cycles of the symphonies, including Istvan Kertesz, Rafael Kubelik, Otmar Suitner, Libor Pesek, Zdenek Macal, Vaclav Neumann, Witold Rowicki, and Neeme Jarvi.

Symphonic poems
Dvorak`s symphonic poems (tone poems) are among his most original symphonic works.[2]. He wrote five symphonic poems, all in 1896-1897, and they have sequential opus numbers: The Water Goblin, Op. 107; The Noon Witch, Op. 108; The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109; The Wood Dove, Op. 110; and The Hero`s Song, Op. 111. The first four of these works are based upon ballads by the Czech folklorist Karel Erben. The Hero`s Song is based on a program of Dvorak`s devising and is believed to be autobiographical.[3]

Oratorial works
The greatest Dvorak`s oratorial works are Requiem, Op. 89, Stabat Mater, Te Deum and Missa in D major. The first three of these opuses are numbered among the best compositions of their kind. The recording of the Requiem by conductor Karel Ancerl with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic Chorus and soloists (1959) was awarded the prestigious Grand Prix du disque de l?Academie Charles Cros.

Music critic Harold Schonberg expressed common critical opinion when he wrote that Dvorak wrote "an attractive Piano Concerto in G minor with a rather ineffective piano part, a beautiful Violin Concerto in A minor, and a supreme Cello Concerto in B minor" (The Lives of the Great Composers, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, revised edition, 1980). All the concertos are in the classical three movement form.

The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G minor, Op. 33 was the first of three concertos that Dvorak composed and orchestrated, and it is perhaps the least known of those three. Dvorak composed his piano concerto from late August through September 14, 1876. Its autograph version contains many corrections, erasures, cuts and additions, the bulk of these made in the piano part. The work was premiered in Prague on March 24, 1878, with the orchestra of the Prague Provisional Theatre conducted by Adolf Cech, and the Czech pianist Karel Slavkovsky as soloist. As Dvorak wrote: "I see I am unable to write a Concerto for a virtuoso; I must think of other things." Instead, what Dvorak thought of and created was a concerto with remarkable symphonic values in which the piano plays a leading part in the orchestra rather than opposed to it. The Czech pianist and piano teacher Professor Vilem Kurz subsequently wrote an alternative, somewhat more virtuosic piano part for the concerto, which may, depending on the performer`s preference, be played either partially or entirely in lieu of Dvorak`s part. In 1919 concert pianist Ilona Kurzova played the first performance of the Kurz version, conducted by Vaclav Talich.

The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 53 was the second of the three concertos that Dvorak composed and orchestrated. He had met the great violinist Joseph Joachim in 1878 and decided to write a concerto for him. He finished it in 1879, but Joachim was skeptical of the work. He was a strict classicist and objected to Dvorak`s inter alia or his abrupt truncation of the first movement`s orchestral tutti, and he also did not like that the recapitulation was similarly cut short and that it led directly to the slow movement. He never actually played the piece. The concerto was premiered in 1883 in Prague by the violinist Frantisek Ondricek, who subsequently performed it in its debuts in Vienna and London. The second (slow) movement is especially celebrated for its lyricism.

The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B minor, Op. 104 was the last composed of Dvorak`s concertos. He wrote it in 1894-1895 for his friend, the cellist Hanus Wihan. Wihan and others had asked for a cello concerto for some time, but Dvorak always refused, stating that the cello was a fine orchestral instrument but totally insufficient for a solo concerto.

Dvorak composed the concerto in New York while serving as the Director of the National Conservatory. In 1894 Victor Herbert, who was also teaching at the Conservatory, had written a cello concerto and presented it in a series of concerts. Dvorak attended at least two performances of Victor Herbert`s cello concerto and was inspired to fulfill Wihan`s request for a cello concerto. Dvorak`s concerto received its premiere in London on March 16, 1896, with the English cellist Leo Stern. The work was well received. Brahms said of the work: "Had I known that one could write a cello concerto like this, I would have written one long ago!"

Over thirty years earlier in 1865, Dvorak had composed a Cello Concerto in A Major, but with accompaniment by piano rather than orchestra. It is believed Dvorak had intended to orchestrate it, but abandoned it. It was orchestrated by the German composer Gunter Raphael between 1925 and 1929, and again by his cataloguer Jarmil Burghauser and published in this form in 1952 as B.10.

Chamber music
Dvorak composed fourteen string quartets, the most popular being the 12th, the `American`, Op. 96. He also composed two piano quintets, of which the 2nd, Op. 81, is better known. He left three string quintets, a terzetto for two violins and viola, two piano quartets, and four piano trios, including the "Dumky", Op. 90.

Dvorak’s critical acclaim as a composer of symphonies and concertos gave him a strong desire to write opera. Of all his operas, only Rusalka, Op. 114, and, to a much lesser extent, The Devil and Kate , Op. 112, are played on contemporary opera stages with any frequency outside Czechia. This is due to their uneven invention, their inadequate libretti, and perhaps also their staging requirements — The Jacobin, Armida, Vanda and Dimitrij need stages large enough to portray invading armies.

There is speculation by Dvorak scholars such as Michael Beckerman that portions of his Symphony No. 9 "From the New World", notably the second movement, were adapted from studies for a never-written opera about Hiawatha.[5]

The German-born conductor Gerd Albrecht has recorded many of Dvorak’s operas on the Orfeo and Supraphon labels.

List of operas

Alfred (unpublished) - 1870
King and Charcoal Burner (Kral a uhlir) - 1871, recomposed on 1874, revised on 1887, Op.14
The Stubborn Lovers (Tvrde palice) - 1874, Op.17
Vanda - 1875, revised on 1879 and 1883, Op.25
The Cunning Peasant or The Peasant a Rogue (Selma sedlak) - 1877, Op.35
Dimitrij - 1881~2, revised on 1883, 1885, 1894~5, Op.64
The Jacobin - 1887~8, revised on 1897, Op.84
The Devil and Kate (Cert a Kaca) – 1898~9, Op.112
Rusalka - 1900, Op.114
Armida – 1902~3, Op.115

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