About this Recording
8.553372 - DVORAK, A.: String Quartets, Vol. 2 (Vlach Quartet) - Nos. 8, 11
English 

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Antonin Dvořák (1841 - 1904)

String Quartets

Quartet No. 11 in C major, Op. 61

Quartet No. 8 in E major, Op. 80

 

Antonin Dvořák was born in 1841, the son of a butcher and innkeeper in the village of Nelahozeves, near Kralupy in Bohemia and some forty miles north of Prague. It was natural that he should follow the example of his father and grandfather by learning the family trade, and to this end he left school at the age of eleven. There is no reliable record of his competence in butchery, but his musical abilities were early apparent, and in 1853 he was sent to lodge with an uncle in Zlonice, where he continued an apprenticeship started at home, learning German and improving his knowledge of music, rudimentary skill in which he had a1ready acquired at home and in the village band and church. Further study of German and of music at Kamenice, a town in northern Bohemia, led to his admission, in 1857, to the Prague Organ School, from which he graduated two years later.

 

In the years that followed, Dvořák earned his living as a viola-player in a band under the direction of Karel Komzak which was to form the nucleus of the Provisional Theatre Orchestra, established in 1862. Four years later Smetana was appointed conductor of the opera-house, where his Czech operas The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride had a1ready been performed. It was not until 1871 that Dvořák resigned from the theatre orchestra, to devote more time to composition, as his music began to draw some favourable local attention. Two years later he married and early in 1874 became organist of the church of St Adalbert. During this period he continued to support himself by private teaching, while busy on a series of compositions that gradually became known to a wider circle.

 

Further recognition came with the award of a Ministry of Education stipendium by a committee in Vienna that included the critic Eduard Hanslick and Brahms for a number of compositions submitted to the committee in 1874. The following year Dvorak failed to win the award, but was successful in 1876 and again in 1877. His fourth application brought the personal interest of Hanslick and Brahms and a connection with Simrock, the latter's publisher, who expressed a wish to publish the Moravian Duets and commissioned a set of Slavonic Dances for piano duet. These compositions won particular popularity. There were visits to Germany, as weil as to England, where he was always received with greater enthusiasm than a Czech composer would ever at that time have won in Vienna. The series of compositions that fo11owed secured him an unassailable position in Czech music and a place of honour in the larger world.

 

Early in 1891 Dvorak became professor of composition at Prague Conservatory .In the summer of the same year he was invited to become director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, a venture which, it was hoped, would lay the foundations for American national music. The very Bohemian musical results of Dvorak's time in America are we11 known. Here he wrote his Ninth Symphony, From the New World, its themes inf1uenced, at least, by what he had heard of indigenous American Indian and Negro music, his American Quartet and a charming Sonatina for violin and piano. In 1895 he returned home to his work at the Prague Conservatory, writing in the fo11owing year a series of symphonic poems and before the end of the century two more operas, to add to the nine he had already composed. He died in Prague in 1904.

 

Dvořák's Quartet in C major, Opus 61, was completed on 10th November 1881, in response to a commission from the Hellmesberger Quartet, presumably through the agency of Brahms, and was first performed a year later in Berlin in November 1882 by the Joachim Quartet, after the disruption of the Vienna concert schedule of the Hellmesberger Quartet by a fire at the Ringtheater. Something of the composer's reputation may be gauged from the fact that the work was performed twelve days later in Cologne by the Heckmann Quartet. Since the quartet was intended for Vienna, where the Hellmesberger Quartet held a leading position, the Czech element in the writing is relatively restrained, in view of current prejudices against provincial Bohemian culture and, indeed, of much outside the now established conventions of the imperial capital. There is harmonic experiment in the first movement, particularly in the recapitulation of the material, where the original key would have been expected to dominate. There is strong feeling in the moving slow movement, intended at one time as part of the Violin Sonata in F major. This is followed by a lively Scherzo, thematically related to the first movement, and a Trio that is more overtly Bohemian, as is the energetic rondo that provides the Finale.

 

The eighth of Dvořák's fourteen string quartets, the Quartet in E major, Opus 80, once listed as Opus 27, was completed on 4th February 1876 and revised in 1888, before its first public performance in Boston on 27th February 1889 by the Kneisel Quartet. A few weeks later there were performances in England, in Manchester and in London. The music is to some extent influenced by the death of his second child, the first of his daughters, who died in September 1875, soon after her birth. The first movement, in spite of its key, has a certain gentle melancholy about it. The Czech slow movement has something of the dumka in it, a form derived from Ukrainian ballads of lament for which Dvořák found considerable use. The scherzo, with its alternation of triple and duple time, is relatively restrained, to be followed by a final movement that again has moments of reflective lyricism.

 


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