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Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)

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 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.
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 symphonies, 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 he wrote 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 naiveté, which 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.