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8.553373 - DVORAK, A.: String Quartets, Vol. 3 (Vlach Quartet) - No. 9 / Terzetto

Antonin Dvorak (1841 -1904)

Antonin Dvořák (1841 - 1904)

String Quartet No. 9 in D minor, Op. 34

Terzetto in C major, Op. 74


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, a rudimentary skill in which he had already 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 this Czech operas The Brandenburgers in Bohemla and The Bartered Bride had already been performed. It was not unti11871 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 aseries 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 Hans1ick and Brahms for a number of compositions submitted to the committee in 1874. The following year Dvořák failed to win the award, but was successful in 1876 and again in 1877. His fourth app1ication brought the personal interest of Hans1ick and Brahms and a connection with Simrock, the latter's pub1isher, who expressed a wish to pub1ish the Moravian Duets and commissioned a set of Slavonic Dances for piano duet. These compositions won particular popularity. There were visits to Germany, as well 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 followed secured him an unassailable position in Czech music and a place of honour in the larger world.


Early in 1891 Dvořák became professor of composition at Prague Conservatory. In the summer of the same year he was invited to become director of the Nationa1Conservatory of Musician New York, a venture which, it was hoped, would lay the foundations for American national music. The very Bohemian musica1 results of Dvořák's time in America are well known. Here he wrote his Ninth Symphony, From the New World, its themes influenced, 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 following year a series of symphonic poems and before the end of the century two more operas, to add to the nine he had a1ready composed. He died in Prague in 1904.


The Quartet No.9 in D minor, Opus 34, was completed in late 1877 and dedicated to Brahms. The quartet was revised in 1879 and first performed in Prague on 27th February 1882. The period of composition came soon after news of the further Vienna grant offered him, with the possibility of the publication of the Moravian Duets through the agency of Brahms and his publisher Simrock. The work shows complete technical assurance, its first movement tinged with a certain melancholy, as memories of the death of his daughter still recurred. The thematic material and its treatment sometimes recalls Schubert, with elements of the same composer's 'heavenly length', leading to a histrionic conclusion. The second movement, Alla polka, is a now characteristic replacement for the expected scherzo, essentially a folk-dance with a contrasting trio section. This leads to a meditative slow movement of great beauty, which includes finally reminiscences of the first movement. The last movement, in tripartite sonata-form; starts with an energetic rhythmic figure that gives rise to rapid figuration in accompaniment and development.


Dvořák wrote his Terzetto inC major, Opus 74, in 1887, designing it originally for the amateur violinist Josef Kruis, a chemistry student lodging in the same house in Prague, and his teacher, the violinist Jan Pelikan. In the event Kruis found the part assigned to him beyond his technical ability, and Dvořák then w rote music of a simpler cast, the Bagatelles, Opus 75a, also scored for two violins and viola, although subsequently arranged by the composer for violin and piano under the title Romantic Pieces, Opus 75. The Terzetto opens in a characteristically lyrical Bohemian mood, contrasted with darker hued music that introduces an element of agitation. The slow movement, breathing a spirit of rural serenity, the peace of the Bohemian countryside, follows at once, its first thematic material framing a central section of leaping dotted rhythms. The third movement is a Scherzo, a furiant, accompanied at first by the plucked strings of the viola, a rhythmic and energetic dance to which the gently lilting Trio provides a clear contrast, before the return of the Scherzo, with its sense of urgency. The Terzetto ends with a theme and variations. After a dramatic opening, the theme is heard, followed by a series of variations that have their own moments of dramatic tension in a texture in which the absence of a cello is never for a moment noticed, while tonality shifts to reach a final C minor.



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