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8.557476 - DVORAK: Poetic Tone Pictures, Op. 85 / Dumka and Furiant, Op. 12
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Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904)

Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904)

Complete Solo Piano Music, Volume 3


Antonín Dvorák was born in 1841, the son of a butcher and innkeeper in the village of Nelahozeves, near the Bohemian town of Kralupy, some forty miles north of Prague. It was natural that he should at first have been expected to follow the family trade, as the eldest son. His musical abilities, however, soon became apparent and were encouraged by his father, who in later years abandoned his original trade, to earn something of a living as a zither player. After primary schooling he was sent to lodge with an uncle in Zlonice and was there able to acquire the necessary knowledge of German and improve his abilities as a musician, hitherto acquired at home in the village band and in 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, where he studied for the following two years.


On leaving the Organ School, Dvorák earned his living as a viola-player in a band under the direction of Karel Komzák, an ensemble that was to form the nucleus of the Czech Provisional Theatre Orchestra, established in 1862. Four years later Smetana was appointed conductor at the theatre, where his operas The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride had already been performed. It was not until 1871 that Dvorák resigned from the orchestra, devoting himself more fully to composition, as his music began to attract favourable local attention. In 1873 he married a singer from the chorus of the theatre and 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 to Dvorák in 1874, when his application for an Austrian government award brought his music to the attention of the critic Eduard Hanslick in Vienna and subsequently to that of Brahms, a later member of the examining committee. The granting of this award for five consecutive years was of material assistance. It was through this contact that, impressed by Dvorák’s Moravian Duets entered for the award of 1877, Brahms was able to arrange for their publication by Simrock, who commissioned a further work, Slavonic Dances, for piano duet. The success of these publications introduced Dvorák’s music to a much wider public, for which it held some exotic appeal. As his reputation grew, there were visits to Germany and to England, where he was always received with greater enthusiasm than might initially have been accorded a Czech composer in Vienna.


In 1883 Dvorák had rejected a tempting proposal that he should write a German opera for Vienna. At home he continued to contribute to Czech operatic repertoire, an important element in re-establishing national musical identity. The invitation to take up a position in New York was another matter. In 1891 he had become professor of composition at Prague Conservatory and in the summer of the same year he was invited to become director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. With the backing of Jeannette Thurber and her husband, this institution was intended to foster American music, hitherto dominated by musicians from Europe or largely trained there. Whatever the ultimate success or failure of the venture, Dvorák’s contribution was seen as that of providing a blue-print for American national music, following the example of Czech national music, which owed so much to him. The musical results of Dvorák’s time in America must lie chiefly in his own music, notably in his Symphony ‘From the New World’, his American Quartet and American Quintet and his Violin Sonatina, works that rely strongly on the European tradition that he had inherited, while making use of melodies and rhythms that might be associated in one way or another with America. By 1895 Dvorák was home for good, resuming work at the Prague Conservatory, of which he became director in 1901. His final works included a series of symphonic poems and two more operas, to add to the nine he had already composed. He died in Prague in 1904.


Keith Anderson



Dvorák’s Piano Music


Dvorák is better known for his orchestral works and his chamber music than for anything he wrote for the piano, although one of the Humoresques retains a place in popular repertoire.


The Dumka and Furiant, Op. 12, B. 136/137, were composed in autumn 1884. A Dumka consists mostly of the alteration between slow and fast parts and has its origin in the folk- music of the Ukraine. The slow parts are narrative, lyric, and dream-like, and the fast ones change suddenly to dance movements. The Dumka is not the most typical of Dvorák’s, but the work can nevertheless be counted among his most beautiful works, since it is a rich, elegiac, and deeply-felt work. The brilliant Furiant, Op. 12, No. 2, is, like the Furiant from Op. 85, a typically Czech folk-dance.


The Two Little Pearls, B. 156, are both small recital pieces. They were written in autumn 1887 and published for the first time by F. A. Urbanek as part of a collection called “the young Czech pianist”. The first has the title Do kola (In a ring) and the second De˘deÇek tanÇi s babiÇkou (Grandpa dances with Grandma).


The piano cycle Poetic Tone Pictures, Op. 85, B.161, of 1889 consists of thirteen different pieces. It contains such diverse elements as the Peasant Ballad and Furiant, which have a distinct feeling of Czech-Bohemian folk-music, and At the Old Castle and Reverie, which have something of the mood of a sad dream. Also included are very cheerful, comic pieces like Toying, Goblins’ Dance and Serenade, the last originally called Comical Serenade. The two pieces Spring Song and Tittle-tattle evoke a homely idyll. The first piece On the Road at Night, Bacchanal and At a Hero’s Grave are serious in tone. The last of these has the peculiarity of having no recognisable solid tonal centre in its resolution. Dvorák, deeply religious, completes his cycle with the piece At Svata Hora, a reference to a place of pilgrimage near the city of Pfiíbram. The piece combines a chant with downward moving cascades of sounds.


Stefan Veselka

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