Dvořák was born on September 8, 1841, in the Bohemian village of Nelahozeves, near Prague (then part of Bohemia in the Austrian Empire, now in the Czech Republic), where he spent most of his life. He was baptized as a Roman Catholic in the church of St. Andrew in the village. Dvořák's years in Nelahozeves nurtured the strong Christian faith and love for his Bohemian heritage which so strongly influenced his music. His father František Dvořák (1814–1894) was an innkeeper, professional player of the zither, and a butcher. Although his father wanted him to be a butcher as well, Dvořák went on to pursue a future in music. He received his earliest musical education at the village school which he entered in 1847, age 6. From 1857 to 1859 he studied music in Prague's only organ school, and gradually developed into an accomplished player of the violin and the viola. He wrote his first String Quartet when he was twenty years old, two years after graduating.
Throughout the 1860s he played viola in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra, which from 1866 was conducted by Bedřich Smetana. By the time he was eighteen years old, Dvořák was a full-time musician. He was making about $7.50 a month. The constant need to supplement his income pushed him to teach piano lessons. It was through these piano lessons that he met his wife. He originally fell in love with his pupil Josefína Čermáková, for whom he composed Cypress Trees. However, she never returned his love and ended up marrying another man. In 1873 Dvořák married Josefina's younger sister, Anna. They had nine children together, three of whom died during infancy.
It was after his marriage that he left the National Theatre Orchestra, in which he had been playing for eleven years. He secured the job of organist at St. Adalbert’s Church in Prague, which provided him with decent financial security, a higher state in social status, and enough free time to focus on composing. Dvořák composed his second string quintet in 1875, the same year that his first son was born. It was during this year that he produced a multitude of works, including his 5th Symphony, String Quintet No. 2, Piano Trio No. 1 and Serenade for Strings in E.
In 1877, the critic Eduard Hanslick informed him that his music had attracted the attention of the famous Johannes Brahms, whom Dvořák admired greatly. Brahms had a huge influence over Dvořák’s work, especially as the two later became friends. Brahms contacted the musical publisher Simrock, one of the major European publishers. Published in 1878, the above mentioned works were an immediate success. Dvořák's Stabat Mater (1880) was performed abroad, and after a successful performance in London in 1883, Dvořák was invited to visit England where he appeared to great acclaim in 1884. His Symphony No. 7 was written for London; it premiered there in 1885. Dvořák visited England nine times in total, often conducting his own works there.
In 1890, influenced by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Dvořák also visited Russia, and conducted the orchestras in Moscow and in St. Petersburg. In 1891 Dvořák received an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, and was offered a position at the Prague Conservatory as professor of composition and instrumentation. At first he refused the offer, but then later accepted. He probably changed his mind and accepted this offer after quarrelling with his publisher, Simrock, over payment for his Eighth Symphony. His Requiem premiered later that year in Birmingham at the Triennial Music Festival.
From 1892 to 1895, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, at a then-staggering $15,000 annual salary. The Conservatory had been founded by a wealthy and philanthropic socialite, Jeannette Thurber; it was located at 126-128 East 17th Street, but was demolished in 1911 and replaced by what is now a high school.
Dvořák’s main goal in America was to discover “American Music” and engage in it, much as he had utilized Czech folk idioms within his music. Shortly after his arrival in America in 1892, Dvořák wrote a series of newspaper articles reflecting on the state of American music. He supported the concept that African-American and Native American music should be used as a foundation for the growth of American music. He felt that through the music of Native Americans and African-Americans, Americans would find their own nationalist music. Here Dvořák met with Harry Burleigh, his pupil at the time and one of the earliest African-American composers. Burleigh introduced Dvořák to traditional American Spirituals at Dvořák's request.
Over the course of three months in 1895, Dvořák wrote his Cello Concerto in B minor. However, problems with Mrs. Thurber about his salary, together with increasing recognition in Europe — he had been made an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna — and a remarkable amount of homesickness made him decide to return to Bohemia. He informed Mrs. Thurber, who still owed him his salary, that he was leaving. Dvořák and his wife left New York before the end of the spring term with no intention of returning.
After returning home from America, Dvořák at first spent most of his time resting and spending time with his family in the country. During his final years, Dvořák concentrated on composing opera and chamber music. In 1896 he visited London for the last time to hear the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor. In 1897 his daughter married a pupil of his – the composer Josef Suk. Dvořák was appointed a member of the jury for the Viennese Artist’s Stipendium, and later was honored with a medal. Dvořák succeeded Antonín Bennewitz as director of the Conservatory in Prague in November 1901 until his death from heart failure in 1904.. His 60th birthday was celebrated as a national event, with organized concerts and even a banquet in his honor. He died from heart failure on May 1, 1904, following five weeks of illness. His funeral was on May 5. He is interred in the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague, under his bust by Czech sculptor Ladislav Šaloun.
He left many unfinished works, including the early Cello Concerto in A major (see Concerti below).
Dvořák wrote in a variety of forms: his nine symphonies generally stick to classical models that Beethoven would have recognised, but he also worked in the newly developed symphonic poem form and the influence of Richard Wagner is apparent in some works. Many of his works also show the influence of Czech folk music, both in terms of elements such as rhythms and melodic shapes; perhaps the best known examples are the two sets of Slavonic Dances. His interest in nationalist ideas carried over to his work in the United States. Dvořák also wrote operas (of which the best known is Rusalka); serenades for string orchestra and wind ensemble; chamber music (including a number of string quartets and quintets); songs; choral music; and piano music.
While a large number of Dvořák's works were given opus numbers, these did not always bear a logical relationship to the order in which they were either written or published. To achieve better sales, some publishers such as Simrock preferred to present budding composers as being well established, by giving some relatively early works much higher opus numbers than their chronological order would merit. In other cases, Dvořák deliberately provided new works with lower opus numbers to be able to sell them outside contract obligations to other publishers. This way it could happen that the same opus number was given to more than one of Dvořák's works. In yet other cases, a work was given as many as three different opus numbers by different publishers. The numbering of his symphonies has also been confused: (a) they were initially numbered by order of publication, not composition; (b) the first four symphonies to be composed were published after the last five; and (c) the last five symphonies were not published in order of composition. This explains why, for example, the New World Symphony was originally published as No. 5, was later known as No. 8, and definitively renumbered as No. 9 in the critical editions published in the 1950s.
The order of publication of the symphonies was:
No. 6 (1881) – published as "No. 1", although Dvořák called it "No. 5"
No. 7 (1885) – published as "No. 2", although Dvořák called it "No. 6"
No. 5 (1888) – published as "No. 3, Op. 76", although Dvořák called it "No. 4, Op. 24" on the score
No. 8 (1890) – published as "No. 4", although Dvořák called it "No. 7"
No. 9 (1894) – published as "No. 5", although Dvořák called it "No. 8"
No. 3 (1912)
No. 4 (1912)
No. 2 (1959)
No. 1 (1961)
The symphonies were first performed in a different order again:
No. 3 (1874)
No. 5 (1879)
No. 6 (1881)
No. 7 (1885)
No. 2 (1888)
No. 8 (1890)
No. 4 (1892)
No. 9 (1893)
No. 1 (1936)
All of Dvořák's works were chronologically catalogued by Jarmil Burghauser in Antonín Dvořák. Thematic Catalogue. Bibliography. Survey of Life and Work (Export Artia, Prague, 1960). As an example, in the Burghauser catalogue, the New World Symphony, Op. 95 is B.178. Scholars today often refer to Dvořák's works by their B numbers (for Burghauser), although references to the traditional opus numbers are still common, in part because the opus numbers have historical continuity with earlier scores and printed programs. The opus numbers are still more likely to appear in printed programs for performances.
The first page of the autograph score of Dvořák's Ninth Symphony
During Dvořák's life, only five of his symphonies were widely known. The first published was his sixth, dedicated to Hans Richter. After Dvořák's death, research uncovered four unpublished symphonies, of which the manuscript of the first had even been lost to the composer himself. This led to an unclear situation in which the New World Symphony has alternately been called the 5th, 8th and 9th. This article uses the modern numbering system, according to the order in which they were written.
Symphony No. 1 in C minor was written when Dvořák was 24 years old. Later subtitled The Bells of Zlonice after a village in Dvořák's native Bohemia, it shows inexperience but also genius with its many attractive qualities. It has many formal similarities with Beethoven's 5th Symphony (for example, the movements follow the same keys: C minor, A flat major, C minor, C major), yet in harmony and instrumentation, Dvořák's First follows the style of Franz Schubert. (Some material from this symphony was reused in the Silhouettes, Opus 8, for piano solo.)
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 13, still shows a strong influence of Wagner, particularly the second movement, which is reminiscent of the overture to Tannhäuser. In contrast, the scherzo is strongly Czech in character.
Symphony No. 5 in F major, Op. 76, and Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60, are largely pastoral in nature, and brush away nearly all the last traces of Wagnerian style. The Sixth, published in 1880, shows a very strong resemblance to the Symphony No. 2 of Brahms, particularly in the outer movements, though this similarity is belied by the third-movement furiant, a vivid Czech dance. This was the symphony that made him internationally known as a symphonic composer.
Symphony No. 7 in D minor of 1885, Op. 70, is sometimes reckoned to exhibit more formal tautness and greater intensity than the more famous 9th Symphony. There is emotional torment in the Seventh that may reflect personal troubles: around this time, Dvořák was struggling to have his Czech operas accepted in Vienna, feeling pressure to write operas in German, and arguing with his publisher. His sketches show that the Seventh cost him much hard work and soul-searching.
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, is, in contrast with the Seventh, characterized by a warmer and more optimistic tone. Karl Schumann (in booklet notes for a recording of all the symphonies by Rafael Kubelík) compares it to the works of Gustav Mahler. As with the Seventh, some feel the Eighth is the best of the symphonies. That some critics feel it necessary to promote a symphony as "better than the Ninth" shows how the immense popularity of the Ninth has overshadowed the earlier works.
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, may be better known by its subtitle, From the New World, and is also called the New World Symphony. Dvořák wrote it between January and May 1893, while he was in New York. At the time of its first performance, he claimed that he used elements from American music such as spirituals and Native American music in this work, but he later denied this. The first movement has a soloflute passage reminiscent of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", and one of his students later reported that the second movement depicted, programmatically, the sobbing of Hiawatha. The second movement was so reminiscent of a negro spiritual that William Arms Fisher wrote lyrics for it and called it "Goin' Home". Dvořák was interested in indigenous American music, but in an article published in the New York Herald on December 15, 1893, he wrote, "[In the 9th symphony] I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music." Neil Armstrong took a recording of the New World Symphony to the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission, the first Moon landing, in 1969, and in 2009 it was voted the favourite symphony in a poll run by ABC Classic FM in Australia.
The greatest of Dvořák's choral works are his Requiem, Op. 89, his Te Deum, his Mass in D major, and his Stabat Mater, the longest extant setting of that work. The recording of the Requiem by conductor Karel Ančerl with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic Chorus and soloists (1959) was awarded the prestigious "Grand Prix du disque de L'Académie Charles Cros". Other choral works include: Amid Nature, The Spectre’s Bride, Hymn of the Czech Peasants, St. Ludmila, The American Flag, Festival Song and many more.
Music critic Harold C. Schonberg expressed common critical opinion when he wrote that Dvořák wrote "an attractive Piano Concerto in G minor with a rather ineffective piano part, a beautiful Violin Concerto in A minor, and a supreme Cello Concerto in B minor". All the concertos are in the classical three-movement form.
The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G minor, Op. 33 was the first of three concertos that Dvořák composed and orchestrated, and it is perhaps the least known of those three. Dvořák composed his piano concerto from late August through September 14, 1876. Its autograph version contains many corrections, erasures, cuts and additions, the bulk of these made in the piano part. The work was premiered in Prague on March 24, 1878, with the orchestra of the Prague Provisional Theatre conducted by Adolf Čech, and the Czech pianist Karel Slavkovský as soloist. As Dvořák wrote: "I see I am unable to write a Concerto for a virtuoso; I must think of other things." Instead, what Dvořák thought of and created was a concerto with remarkable symphonic values in which the piano plays a leading part in the orchestra rather than opposed to it. The Czech pianist and piano teacher Professor Vilém Kurz subsequently wrote an alternative, somewhat more virtuosic piano part for the concerto, which may, depending on the performer's preference, be played either partially or entirely in lieu of Dvořák's part. In 1919 concert pianist Ilona Kurzová played the first performance of the Kurz version, conducted by Václav Talich.
The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 53 was the second of the three concertos that Dvořák composed and orchestrated. He had met the great violinist Joseph Joachim in 1878 and decided to write a concerto for him. He finished it in 1879, but Joachim was skeptical of the work. He objected to Dvořák's abrupt truncation of the first movement's orchestral tutti, and he also did not approve its truncated recapitulation and its leading directly to the slow movement. He never played the piece. The concerto was premiered in 1883 in Prague by the violinist František Ondříček, who also gave its first performances in Vienna and London.
The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B minor, Op. 104 was the last composed of Dvořák's concertos. He wrote it in 1894-1895 for his friend the cellist Hanuš Wihan. Wihan and others had asked for a cello concerto for some time, but Dvořák always refused, stating that the cello was a fine orchestral instrument but completely insufficient for a solo concerto.
Dvořák composed the concerto in New York while serving as the Director of the National Conservatory. In 1894 Victor Herbert, who was also teaching at the Conservatory, had written a cello concerto and presented it in a series of concerts. Dvořák attended at least two performances of Victor Herbert's cello concerto and was inspired to fulfill Wihan's request for a cello concerto. Dvořák's concerto received its premiere in London on March 16, 1896, with the English cellist Leo Stern. The work was well received. Brahms said of the work: "Had I known that one could write a cello concerto like this, I would have written one long ago!"
Over thirty years earlier in 1865, Dvořák had composed a Cello Concerto in A major, but with accompaniment by piano rather than orchestra. It is believed Dvořák had intended to orchestrate it, but abandoned it. It was orchestrated by the German composer Günter Raphael between 1925 and 1929, and again by his cataloguer Jarmil Burghauser and was published in this form in 1952 as B.10.
Over a period of almost 30 years, Dvořák's output of chamber music was prolific and diverse, composing more than 40 works for ensembles with strings.
In 1860 just after he finished his education at the Organ school, Dvořák composed his String Quintet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 1. Two more would follow, of which the String Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 77 from early 1875, is noteworthy for the use of a double bass. It was written for a chamber music competition sponsored by the Umelecká beseda (Artistic Circle), where it was unanimously awarded the prize of five ducats for the "distinction of theme, the technical skill in polyphonic composition, the mastery of form and the knowledge of the instruments" displayed. The String Quintet No.3 in E♭major "American", Op. 97, with a second viola added, was written near the end of his output for chamber ensemble during his American period in 1893, when having a summer holiday spent in Spillville, Iowa.
Within a year after completing his first string quintet, Dvořák completed his String Quartet No. 1 in A major, Op. 2, the first of his fourteen string quartets. Though his grasp of compositoral skills is better than the previous quintet shows, another problem presents itself: Dvořák has difficulty restraining himself in his musical output, which results in very long compositions. Many years later Dvořák cut out many of these over abundant measures for a first performance of his first string quartet in 1888. In that same period Dvořák made a list of compositions he had destroyed, which lists two quartets and 2 other quartets. Most probably he did tear up and burn them, but not after the different parts for three string quartets had been copied out. The number of errors in the parts makes it highly unbelievable that he actually had them played. His String Quartet No. 2 in B♭ major, B.17, bears no name nor annotation, but Dvořák's biographer Burghauser assumes it was the first of these three written, and therefore changed its place in the list of Dvořák's first biographer Otakar Šourek, who had placed it as the fourth. This mix-up seems very academical, but is fed by the annotations of the other two quartets, for Dvořák's String Quartet No. 3 in D major, B.18, bears the name Quartetto II, again no date, and the String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, B.19, was named Quartetto III and finished in December 1870. These three quartets were probably composed between 1868 and 1870 and bear one common factor, which is their strong influence by the music of Richard Wagner. Although Dvořák threw away these quartets, he saved an Andante religioso from his fourth quartet, to which he gave a new life five years later in his second string quintet, Op. 77, as a second movement named Intermezzo: Nocturne, adding a double bass, making this a five-movement composition. However in 1883 he withdrew it from the quintet, expanded it and had it published in three different versions as Nocturne in B major, Op. 40 for string orchestra, piano 4 hands and violin and piano.
In 1873 Dvořák's life turned for the better: he married Anna Čermáková, and he had his first great success with his Cantata Dědicové bilé hory (The Heirs of the White Mountain). The two Quartets he wrote in this year give a feeling of more determined theme writing.
The composing of his String Quartet No. 5 in F minor, Op. 9, B.37, happened in this time of mood extremes: The happiness of success with the cantata, the acceptance of his second opera for rehearsal by Smetana and the marriage, but also the setback of the total failure of these opera rehearsals, and the ultimate rejection of the work. Though the influence of Wagner is still prominent, a new style is emerging: A Chopinesque waltz in the Scherzo and an almost Slavonic theme in the finale, which looks forward to the first set of Slavonic dances. Still the work isn't of the standard that Dvořák expected from himself, so he discarded it. But again some parts were too dear to forget about completely, and in 1877 he reworked the Andantino from the second movement into the Romance, Op. 11 for violin and piano, which he even orchestrated.
His most popular quartet is his 12th, the American, Op. 96. He also composed two piano quintets, both in A major, of which the 2nd, Op. 81, is better known. He left a terzetto for two violins and viola (Op. 74); two piano quartets, a string sextet; Op. 48; and four piano trios, including the Piano Trio No. 4 (subtitled Dumky), Op. 90. He also wrote a set of Bagatelles, Op. 47, for the unusual instrumentation of two violins, viola, and harmonium, Romanza for the violin and piano, two waltzes for string quartet, 10 love songs entitled Cypresses and a Gavotte for three violins.
Dvořák's critical acclaim as a composer of symphonies and concertos gave him a strong desire to write opera. Of all his operas, only Rusalka, Op. 114, and, to a much lesser extent, The Devil and Kate, Op. 112, are played on contemporary opera stages with any frequency outside the Czech Republic. This is attributable to their uneven invention and libretti, and perhaps also their staging requirements—The Jacobin, Armida, Vanda and Dimitrij need stages large enough to portray invading armies.
One of his more frequently performed arias from Rusalka is "Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém" (or, "Song to the Moon").
There is speculation by Dvořák scholars such as Michael Beckerman that portions of his Symphony No. 9 "From the New World", notably the second movement, were adapted from studies for a never-written opera about Hiawatha.
^ Suk has related in his memoirs about a visit to Brahms in March 1896, that Brahms, in referring to Schopenhauer, talked of his own agnosticism. This may not have been the first time that Dvořák had heard his friend express such views, but he left his flat in shocked silence. When at last he spoke, he said: 'Such a man, such a fine soul-and he believes in nothing, he believes in nothing!' (John Clapham: Dvořák, Musician and Craftsman, page 23)
^ abc New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians: Dvořák, Antonín
^ Horowitz, Joseph. "MUSIC; Czech Composer, American Hero", The New York Times, February 10, 2002. Accessed November 3, 2007. "In 1991, the New York City Council was petitioned by Beth Israel Hospital to permit the demolition of a small row house at 327 East 17th Street, once the home of Antonín Dvořák."
^ A well known example is the Czech Suite which Dvořák didn't want to sell to Simrock, and had published with Schlesinger as Op.39 instead of Op.52.
^ A good example is the opus number 12. This was assigned, successively, to: the opera King and Charcoal Burner (1871), the Concert Overture in F (1871, derived from the opera), the String Quartet No. 6 in A minor (1873), the Furiant in G minor for piano (1879), and the Dumka in C minor for piano (1884).