Antonín Dvorák

(8 September 1841, Nelahozeves - 1 May 1904, Prague)


Antonín Leopold Dvorák was a Czech composer, the first Bohemian composer to achieve worldwide recognition. He is most remembered today for turning folk material into the language of the 19th century Romantic music. He was not born in poverty, as his father was an innkeeper and butcher, who was also a very skilled zither player. It is speculated that as a child, he became familiarized with music in his father's inn.

In 1847 Dvorák entered primary school and learned to play violin from his teacher Joseph Spitz. From an early age he showed promising talent and skill, he even played in a village band and in church. At the age of 12 (or 13) he was sent to Zlonice to live with an aunt and uncle where he began the study of harmony, piano, violin and organ with his with his German-language teacher, Anton Liehmann, who was also the church organist in Zlonice. During a period of 3 years of which he spent here, he composed his earliest works, his first being the Forget-Me-Not Polka in C major. Dvorak took further organ and music theory lessons at Ceská Kamenice under Frankz Hanke, who encouraged his musical talents even further.

In 1857 advised by a perspective music teacher, Dvorák was enrolled at the Institute for Church Music in Prague. Here he completed a two-year course and played the viola in various inns and with theater bands, augmenting his small salary with a few private pupils. The varied works of this period show that his earlier leanings toward the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert were becoming increasingly tinged with the influence of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt.

Pushed by his constant need to supplement his income he started giving piano lessons. It was through these piano lessons that he later met his future wife. In 1874, Dvorák received a grant from the Austrian government. This not only eased his financial stress, but also brought him to the attention of Brahms, who was one of the members of the jury and with whom he formed a close and fruitful friendship. Brahms not only gave him valuable technical advice but also found him an influential publisher in Fritz Simrock, and it was with his firm’s publication of the Moravian Duets (composed 1876) for soprano and contralto and the Slavonic Dances (1878) for piano duet that Dvorák first attracted worldwide attention to himself and to his country’s music.

In 1884 he made the first of 10 visits to England, where the success of his works, especially his choral works, was a source of constant pride to him, although only the Stabat Mater (1877) and Te Deum (1892) continue to hold a position among the finer works of their kind. In 1890 he enjoyed a personal triumph in Moscow, where two concerts were arranged for him by his friend Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The following year he was made an honorary doctor of music of the University of Cambridge.

From 1891 to 1892 he held the position of professor of composition and instrumentation at the Prague Conservatory, and from 1892 to 1895 he was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. In the winter and spring of 1893, Dvorák was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to write Symphony No.9, "From the New World", which was premiered under the baton of Anton Seidl, to tumultuous applause. Though he found much to interest and stimulate him in the New World environment, he soon came to miss his own country, and he returned to Bohemia in 1895. The final years of his life saw the composition of several string quartets and symphonic poems and his last three operas.

Although it was Bedrich Smetana who laid the foundations of the Czech nationalist movement in music, it was Dvorák who developed and extended it through his impressive series of works that quickly came to rank in popularity with those of the great German contemporaries.

Many of Dvorák's compositions, such as the Slavonic Dances and his large collection of songs, were directly inspired by Czech, Moravian, and other Slavic traditional music. All Dvorák’s mature symphonies are of high quality, though only the sombre Symphony No. 7 in D Minor (1885) is as satisfactory in its symphonic structure as it is musically. (It should be explained that Dvorák’s mature symphonies were long known as No. 1 to 5, even though he had written four earlier (and unnumbered) ones. All nine of his symphonies have since been renumbered from the traditional order to their actual order of composition.) Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor (From the New World; 1893) remains his best-known work, partly, no doubt, because it was thought to be based on African American spirituals and other influences gained during his years in the United States.

Many of Dvorák’s most attractive works are among his miscellaneous, less-ambitious ones—the Slavonic Dances (1878, 1886) and other piano duets, the Symphonic Variations (1877), the Bagatelles (1878), the Gypsy Songs (1880), and the Scherzo Capriccioso (1883).

Dvorák'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'.

Here  you can find a list of Antonin Dvorák's works.