Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Antonín Leopold Dvořák (September 8, 1841 – May 1, 1904) was a Czech composer of Romantic music, who employed the idioms and melodies of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. His works include operas, symphonic, choral and chamber music. His best-known works include his New World Symphony (particularly the second and fourth movements), as well as his Slavonic Dances, "American" String Quartet, and Cello Concerto in B minor.

Dvořák was born on September 8, 1841 in Nelahozeves, near Prague (then Austrian Empire, today the Czech Republic), where he spent most of his life. His father František Dvořák (1814-1894) was a butcher, innkeeper, and professional player of the zither. Dvořák's parents recognized his musical talent early, and he received his earliest musical education at the village school which he entered in 1847, age 6. From 1857 to 1859[1] he studied music in Prague's only Organ School, and gradually developed into an accomplished player of the violin and the viola. Throughout the 1860s he played viola in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra, which from 1866 was conducted by Bedřich Smetana. The need to supplement his income by teaching left Dvořák with limited free time, and in 1871 he gave up playing in the orchestra in order to compose. During this time, Dvořák fell in love with one of his pupils, Josefína Čermáková, and wrote a song cycle, Cypress Trees, for her.[1] She never returned his love, however, and married another man. In 1873 Dvořák married Josefína's younger sister, Anna. They had nine children together.

At about this time Dvořák began to be recognized as a significant composer. He became organist at St. Adalbert's Church, Prague, and began a period of prolific composition. Dvořák composed his second string quintet in 1875, and in 1877, the critic Eduard Hanslick informed him that his music had attracted the attention of Johannes Brahms, whom he later befriended. Brahms contacted the musical publisher Simrock, who as a result commissioned Dvořák's first set of Slavonic Dances. Published in 1878, these 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,[1] he often conducted his own works there. In 1890, influenced by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, he also visited Russia, and conducted the orchestras in Moscow and in St. Petersburg.[1] In 1891 Dvořák received an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, and 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 $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,[2][3] but was demolished in 1911 and replaced by what is now a high school. Here Dvořák met with Harry Burleigh, one of the earliest African-American composers, his pupil. Burleigh introduced traditional American Spirituals to Dvořák at the latter's request.

In the winter and spring of 1893, while in New York, Dvořák wrote Symphony No.9, "From the New World". He spent the summer of 1893 with his family in the Czech-speaking community of Spillville, Iowa, to which some of his cousins had earlier immigrated. While there he composed the String Quartet in F (the "American"), and the String Quintet in E flat, as well as a Sonatina for violin and piano.

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 homesickness made him decide to return to Bohemia. He left New York before the end of the spring term.

Dvořák's New York home was located at 327 East 17th Street near Perlman Place.[4] It was in this home that the Ninth Symphony was written. Despite protests, from the then Czech President Václav Havel amongst others, who wanted the house preserved as a historical site, it was demolished to make room for a Beth Israel Medical Center residence for people with AIDS.[5] To honor Dvořák, however, a statue of him was erected in Stuyvesant Square.

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 his pupil, the composer Josef Suk. Dvořák succeeded Antonín Bennewitz as director of the Conservatory in Prague from 1901 until his death from heart failure in 1904[7]. His 60th birthday was celebrated as a national event. He is interred in the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague, under his bust by Czech sculptor Ladislav Šaloun.

via Wikipedia

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