Antonin Dvorak

 

 
 
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Antonin Dvorak (1841 - 1904) came from the environment of farmers and minor tradesmen, whose cottages and houses were spread around Nelahozeves nad Vltavou where he was born. His way up was hard. He studied music with village schoolmasters and at an organ school in Prague, but after that, he had to play viola in Komzak's band and in the Provisional Theatre orchestra for eleven years. He also taught music to sparsely talented girls from rich families to even be able to maintain his family and played organ in St. Adalbert church in the New Town of Prague for a couple of guldens a month. His living was modest. Despite that, he cherished a yearning to become a professional composer. He wanted to prove to the world that the Czech nation can also have great artists. He made do with the subsidy that the state would provide to artists for five consecutive years, only to be able create his own works. He composed everything - from symphonies and operas through songs and various chamber compositions to spiritual music such as oratories and cantatas.

What happened afterwards was almost a miracle. Having studied his works, a member of the subsidy committee named Johannes Brahms decided to help Dvorak. He recommended to his publisher Fritz Simrock in Berlin to publish some of Dvorak's works, and considered him an extraordinarily talented artist (Dvorak was 37 at that time). When Moravian Duets and Slavonic Dances for four hands came out soon after, the success was huge: Dvorak became a celebrated artist almost overnight. The Duets were sung in all families home and abroad, and Slavonic Dances following the success of the piano version which the author had scored for an orchestra - won the entire world instantly. Dvorak was a modest artist with a deep religious background. He loved nature (especially pigeons whom he raised at his summer house in Vysoka near Pribram) but he also admired all of the civilization progress. This was the root of his affection for engines and steam boats, and his admiration for the busy swarming life in large cities. Nevertheless, he often ran away to the loneliness and greenery of village areas.

First and foremost, though, he was a genius composer. Whereas Bedrich Smetana consciously created music that was typically Czech, Dvorak went further. He soon became a truly Slavic composer as he drew his musical inspiration from Moravia, Slovakia, Poland and Russia. He even created a specific form of "dumka", following the Russian folk tradition, and wrote a great opera inspired by Russian history titled Dimitrij. He mined Slavic music for archaic harmonic modes, strange modulations, and a whole new wealth of rhythms and melodic turnarounds, which were all novel and attractive. Dvorak's works such as Slavonic Dances, Slavonic Rhapsodies, String Quartet E flat major, String Sextet A major, Piano Trio "Dumky" and many others prove this Slavic inspiration unmistakably.

Thus, when the famous Dvorak was invited to America in 1892 to teach young composers at the National Conservatory in New York, he probably was the only European author who, being experienced in Slavic music, could show Americans both in theory and practice how they need to compose to ensure that their music had national character. Their country had its own folk lore - that of the African and Native Americans. Through his IX. Symphony titled From the New World, String Quartet F major called the American, String Quartet E flat major, Suite A major and other American works, Dvorak became the most popular author of the continent. He became the discoverer of values that America had not known of in the least, values that had existed in the country and could possibly provide inspiration for classical music.

Dvorak had his way to America paved by his fame not only in Germany and Austria, but primarily in England where, since the times of Handel, the tradition of great vocal/instrumental compositions had been proliferating. Dvorak won England with his Stabat Mater in 1883. Later, he created a number of great works for England during a ten-year period (cantata The Spectre's Bride, oratorio St. Ludmila, Requiem and others). Antonin Dvorak was also a remarkable author of operas, which form the basic repertoire of every Czech opera house today. Jakobin, Kate and the Devil, Rusalka and Armida are among those of them that are staged most often. He created nine symphonies, 16 string quartets, symphonic poems based on balladic themes, a quantity of orchestral works, choir works, songs and compositions for violin and piano.

Antonin Dvorak is the best known and world's most-played Czech composer of all times. His musical inventiveness was bottomless, and the beauty of his melodies unique.



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