The most brilliant name in Bohemian music,
and the one most valued by
the world in general, is that of Antonin Dvorak born in Nelahozeves, near Prague (then
Austrian Empire, today the Czech Republic), who was the
son of a butcher and innkeeper. His father was also professional player
of the zither.
His parents recognized his musical talent early, and Dvorak received
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. After some years' playing in small orchestras, he found a
place as violinist in the orchestra of the National theater at Prague.
This was at the age of nineteen.
About ten years later he first
attracted attention as composer, by means of a hymn for mixed chorus
and orchestra. The attention of his countrymen, thus gained, Dvorak
fastened still more by a succession of compositions of varied scope,
ranging from the beautiful Slavic dances and Slavic rhapsodies to
chamber music and choral works of great brilliancy.
In 1892 Dr. Dvorak
was called to New York as director of the so-called National
Conservatory of Music. In 1895 he returned
to Bohemia. The choral
works of Dvorak were generally first written for English musical
festivals. "The Specter's Bride," "Stabat Mater," "Saint Ludmilla."
The list of his works includes five symphonies for full orchestra,
several concert overtures, a very beautiful air and variations for
orchestra, and seven operas upon Bohemian subjects. Dvorak was one of
the most gifted composers of his time, especially in the
matter of technique. His thematic treatment was always clever, his
orchestral coloring rich and varied, and his style elegant. If
deficiency is to be recorded concerning him it is in invention or
innate weight of ideas.
During his residence in America he promulgated
the idea that an American school of music was to be created by
developing the themes and rhythms of the black music and melodies, and
a symphony, "From the New World," in order to illustrate his meaning.
The second or slow movement of this work attained a distinguished
success almost everywhere; but the themes of the first and last
movement were not sufficient for the treatment they received. This work
has been more successful in Europe than in America. Perhaps the
most notable quality of Dr. Dvorak's personality was his
shows well in his music. He was quite like a Haydn, who had
learned and remembered everything of musical coloration which had been
discovered, but who applied his knowledge in a simple and direct
manner without straining after effect.
Dvorak's symphonic poems (tone
poems) are among his most original symphonic works. 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 Dvořák's devising and
is believed to be autobiographical.
The greatest of Dvorak's oratorial
works are his Requiem, Op. 89, Stabat Mater, Te Deum and his Mass in D
major. The recording of the Requiem by conductor Karel AnčerlCzech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Czech
Philharmonic Chorus and soloists (1959) was awarded the prestigious Grand
Prix du disque de L'Académie Charles Cros.