<< -- 2 -- Tess Crebbin CHORAL MASTERPIECE
When he first started composing, aided by the award of a highly competitive state grant, he came to the attention of one of the grant committee members. He was Johannes Brahms, who was so impressed with the young composer that he helped Dvorák find a publisher for his works and introduced him to Fritz Simrock in Berlin. The Moravian Duets and Slavic Dances were thus published, became a huge success and the rest is, as they say, music history.
Dvorák soon rose to international fame on the merit of his works, but he remained modest despite his success. He was a deeply religious man who loved nature and rose early to watch the birds and later incorporated their songs into his works. At his summer home in Vysoka near Pribram, he raised pigeons, but he also loved steamboats and train engines. He could often be seen at the local train station, hanging out with the train engineers or studying train schedules -- that was one of his big hobbies.
As a true Bohemian, Dvorák was inspired in his music by Slovakia, Moravia, Poland and Russia and he even created a specific form of the Dumka in Russian folk tradition. He looked to Slavic music for its archaic harmonic modes and unusual modulations, which gave his own music a wealth of rhythms and melodic turnarounds and can be especially found in the Slavic dances and rhapsodies. His fame in the Anglophone world started with the huge success in the UK of his Stabat Mater, in 1883.
The piece had its world première in Prague on 23 December 1880 and this led to the call to England, which, in turn, eventually brought Dvorák to the States. His fame spread to the United States via England, where he was celebrated for the Stabat Mater and then composed over the period of some ten years several significant works, such as the 7th Symphony for the Philharmonic Society (1885), St Ludmilla for Leeds (1886), Requiem Mass for Birmingham (1890).
From the early 1890s he spent several years in the USA where he became director of the New York Conservatory of Music, being paid the then huge salary of 15,000 dollars per annum, and where he composed his famous Ninth Symphony (From the New World), the String Quartet in F, the String Quintet in E flat and the Cello Concerto.
Upon his return to Prague, he found success with his opera Rusalka, based on a fairy tale (1901), and at the time of his death in 1904 had become one of the most important late Romantic period composers as well as being a founding member, together with Smetana (1824-1884) of the New Czech School. Dvorák was the first Bohemian composer to achieve worldwide recognition and to this day, he remains the most played Czech composer. In his music we find unusual styles such as the furiant, a Bohemian dance rhythm that changes abruptly between 3/4 and 2/4, and the pentatonic scale, consisting of five notes and generally found in folk music.
Copyright © 1 May 2004
Tess Crebbin, Germany