Antonín Leopold Dvořák (8 September 1841 – 1 May 1904) was a Czech composer, one of the first to achieve worldwide recognition. Following the Romantic-era nationalist example of his predecessor Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák frequently employed rhythms and other aspects of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák’s own style has been described as “the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them”.
Dvořák displayed his musical gifts at an early age, being an apt violin student from age six. The first public performances of his works were in Prague in 1872 and, with special success, in 1873, when he was aged 31. Seeking recognition beyond the Prague area, he submitted a score of his First Symphony to a prize competition in Germany, but did not win, and the unreturned manuscript was lost until rediscovered many decades later. In 1874 he made a submission to the Austrian State Prize for Composition, including scores of two further symphonies and other works. Although Dvořák was not aware of it, Johannes Brahms was the leading member of the jury and was highly impressed. The prize was awarded to Dvořák in 1874[a] and again in 1876 and in 1877, when Brahms and the prominent critic Eduard Hanslick, also a member of the jury, made themselves known to him. Brahms recommended Dvořák to his publisher, Simrock, who soon afterward commissioned what became the Slavonic Dances, Op. 46. These were highly praised by the Berlin music critic Louis Ehlert in 1878, the sheet music (of the original piano 4-hands version) had excellent sales, and Dvořák’s international reputation was launched at last.
Dvořák’s first piece of a religious nature, his setting of Stabat Mater, was premiered in Prague in 1880. It was very successfully performed in London in 1883, leading to many other performances in the United Kingdom and United States. In his career, Dvořák made nine invited visits to England, often conducting performances of his own works. His Seventh Symphony was written for London. Visiting Russia in March 1890, he conducted concerts of his own music in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In 1891 Dvořák was appointed as a professor at the Prague Conservatory. In 1890–91, he wrote his Dumky Trio, one of his most successful chamber music pieces. In 1892, Dvořák moved to the United States and became the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. While in the United States, Dvořák wrote his two most successful orchestral works: the Symphony From the New World, which spread his reputation worldwide, and his Cello Concerto, one of the most highly regarded of all cello concerti. He also wrote his most appreciated piece of chamber music, the American String Quartet, during this time. But shortfalls in payment of his salary, along with increasing recognition in Europe and an onset of homesickness, led him to leave the United States and return to Bohemia in 1895.
All of Dvořák’s nine operas but his first have librettos in Czech and were intended to convey Czech national spirit, as were some of his choral works. By far the most successful of the operas is Rusalka. Among his smaller works, the seventh Humoresque and the song “Songs My Mother Taught Me” are also widely performed and recorded. He has been described as “arguably the most versatile… composer of his time”.
The Best of Dvorak – Part I – Greatest Works
1. Carnival Overture, Op. 92
2. Humoresque no. 7 in Gb Op. 1017
3. Legends, Op.59 – 2. Molto moderato
4. Nature, Life and Love – I. Amid Nature Op. 91 – Allegro ma non troppo
5. Piano Quartet no. 1, Op. 23
6. Rusalka, Op. 114 – ‘Song to the Moon’
7. Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 – no. 4
8. Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 – no. 6
9. Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 – no. 8