The musical legacy of Antonin Dvorak is one of the bastions of European cultural heritage. During his lifetime the composer became one of Europe’s most important symphonists and writers of oratorios and chamber works.
Czech composer Antonín Dvořák was born on this day in 1841.
Remembered as arguably one of the most versatile composers of all time, Dvořák’s signature works include the ‘New World’ Symphony’, the ‘American’ String Quartet, ‘Dumky‘ Piano Trio, opera ‘Rusalka’ – and his much-loved Violin and Cello Concerti.
Born in Nelahozaeves, a village near Prague, his music is incredibly varied, perhaps resulting in his wide appeal. His influences include the styles of Czech, Moravian, and other Slavic folk melodies.
In 1875 Dvořák was awarded a state grant by the Austrian government, and this award brought him into contact with Johannes Brahms, with whom he formed a close and fruitful friendship.
Brahms not only gave him valuable technical advice but also found him an influential publisher in Fritz Simrock, and it was with his firm’s publication of the Moravian Duets (composed 1876) for soprano and contralto and the Slavonic Dances (1878) for piano duet that Dvořák first attracted worldwide attention to himself and to his country’s music.
The admiration of the leading critics, instrumentalists, and conductors of the day continued to spread his fame abroad, which led naturally to even greater triumphs in his own country. In 1884 he made the first of 10 visits to England, where the success of his works, especially his choral works, was a source of constant pride to him, although only the Stabat Mater (1877) and Te Deum (1892) continue to hold a position among the finer works of their kind.
In 1890 he enjoyed a personal triumph in Moscow, where two concerts were arranged for him by his friend Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The following year he was made an honorary doctor of the music of the University of Cambridge.
Dvořák accepted the post of director of the newly established National Conservatory of Music in New York in 1892. In the winter and spring of 1893, while in New York, Dvorak wrote his most popular work, the Symphony No.9, “From the New World”.
Though he found much to interest and stimulate him in the New World environment, he soon came to miss his own country, and he returned to Bohemia in 1895 and resumed his teachings at the Prague conservatory, teaching composition to future composers.
He also continued to work extremely hard on his compositions, and produced many works, including his most famous opera Rusalka, in 1900.
The final years of his life saw the composition of several string quartets and symphonic poems and his last three operas.
Dvořák died suddenly on May 1st, 1904, aged sixty-three. The cause of his death is still somewhat of a mystery. He is interred in the Vysehrad cemetery in Prague.