Biography of Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)

Czech composer born in Nelahozeves (Bohemia, today Czech Republic) on September 8, 1814 and died in Prague on May 1, 1904.

Antonin Dvorak.


The young Dvorak learned to play the violin when he was still a child and often participated in celebrations countryside playing with the band of his hometown. Being the eldest of eight children, Antonin had to combine his love for music with the work in the business of his father, a rural butcher. At age 14 he was sent to Zlonice to learn German and it was there where he began his studies of viola, organ, piano and counterpoint with A. Liehmann. In 1857 he entered the Prague organ school to study with Karl Pietsch, Josef Krejcí and Josef Foerster, among others. He finished his studies with success two years later. Later, between 1863 and 1871, was a violist in the Orchestra of the national theatre of the Czech capital, directed at that time by Bedrich Smetana, whom Dvorak is considered established. In 1863, Dvorak participated in three concerts of works by Richard Wagner , directed by the composer himself.

During these years, he created his first compositions, among which was the song Cyprise (cypresses) cycle, which extracted fragments later used in her concert for cello.

His first opera, Alfred, dates from 1870 and possesses a strong Wagnerian influence. In 1871 he began to work on his opera the King and the charcoal, with libretto in Czech of Bernard J. Lobesky. The first version of this opera also had clear shades of the aforementioned German composer, especially with regard to the orchestral treatment, but Dvorak re-fashioned it years later and printed you a character more nationalist music of his country. This second version was premiered with great success on 24 November 1874 in Prague.

It was his cantata for male voices Hymnus (1873), which narrates the historical epic of the heroes of the White Mountain, which made him truly popular among his countrymen. In 1874, his Symphony in e flat was awarded in Austria by a jury whose members included Johannes Brahms. The Hungarian composer interested in such a way the works of Dvorak, who succeeded to his publisher Simrock published the works of the latter. Years later, when his fame spread, Dvorak received commissions from prominent musicians such as Joseph Joachim, who entrusted the Mission of writing a violin concerto, and Hans Richter, who asked him for a Symphony.

Dvorak developed his role as organist of the Church of St. Vojtech in Prague between 1874 and 1877. Two years later, in 1879, the Publisher Simrock published the first series of the famous Slavonic dances and chants Moravians, works that made him famous, especially among the English public. The great success of his Stabat Mater, premiered on 13 March 1884 at the Albert Hall, facilitated the first of his nine trips to England. During his stays in Great Britain visited cities such as London, Birmingham, Cambridge and Leeds, where Santa Ludmilla premiered several works such as the Concerto for cello and the oratory. His work was also recognized in Germany, Hungary and Russia.

Antonin Dvorak. Slavonic dance No. 1.

After the notoriety and economic achievements obtained in England and other countries, Dvorak could carry out one of their large desires: purchase a house in vysoká, a town in South Bohemia, where retreating frequently with his family during the summer months.

In 1891 he began to teach composition at the Prague Conservatory, where he had bright students as Oskar Nedbal and composer and violinist Josef Suk. The following year, Dvorak accepted an invitation from Jeannete Thurber, President of the National Conservatory in New York, so direct this institution. He moved there with his wife and two of his six children. During his stay in the United States, Dvorak was interested in Indian and Afro-American music and there was where he composed his famous Ninth Symphony "from the new world", fruit of his search for new aesthetic paths that leave behind romanticism. The work was premiered in Carnegie Hall in New York on December 16, 1893, under the baton of Anton Seidl. The fourth centenary of the discovery of America and at the request of Thurber, he wrote his Te Deum.

Antonin Dvorak. 9 th Symphony in mi minor "new world".

Dvorak formed in New York to a number of students that years most later highlighted in American musical life. Among them were Rubin Goldmark, future teacher of Aaron Copland and George Gershwin, and Rowe Shelley, years later teacher of Charles Ives.

He returned to his native country in 1895 and continued teaching at the Conservatory of Prague, institution that went from 1901. After his return to Bohemia he wrote several symphonic and Vodnik Polednice poems and spent much of his time to the creation of operas. Armida (1904), based on a poem by the Italian Torquato Tasso, was the last opera that composed and was an attempt to write a stage play of international character. But it was one of his previous operas, Rusalka, which was more successful. The opera was written in 1901 and was inspired by tales of Hans Christian Andersen and other authors.

Dvorak, like his compatriot Smetana, was a simple man of few pretensions. Despite having achieved to be a composer of international reputation, and have received numerous honors and distinctions as the Austrian order of the Iron Crown (1889) or the doctorate honoris causa by the University of Cambridge (1890), always considered himself himself "a modest Czech musician".


Dvorak's work is varied and includes works of various genres: from opera to Chamber music Symphony music, land to which he devoted more attention. His musical work is not so simple and bucolic as his compatriot Smetana, Dvorak has a more modern language, employs more technical sophistication and an orchestra of largest template. In your orchestration you are looking for spectacular, achieved through dynamic contrasts and experimentation of new timbral combinations. Some of the resources used are typical of Slavic composers, such as the frequent use of the low register of the violin and the use of metal tools in pianissimo. Its fluidity and great melodic spontaneity come to some extent by Schubert.

Antonin Dvorak. Allegro fuoco with.

In his works of youth, Dvorak imitated romantic models, especially those of Mendelssohn. In the Decade of the 1960s can be seen in his music some tonal ambiguity and frequent modulations to distant tonal areas. Thus arose Chamber works such as his string quartets in f minor op. 9 (1873) and the minor op. 16 (1874); and orchestral works like the second Symphony in b flat major (1865). But from 1874, Dvorák moved away from the influence of composers such as Liszt and Wagner and developed a more conventional and classical style. It was at that time when he began to study the folklore of his country, whose main elements later used in his compositions. Thus, he included in his syncopated rhythms of popular like the mazurka, the dumka and the sparcirka dance and abandoned the practice of the upbeat (see anacrusis), since it does not exist in the Czech folklore.

In this line of nationalist character emerged a multitude of titles, like the three Slavonic Rhapsodies (1878), the String Quartet in e major (1879), the opera Dimitri (1881-1882) and the Sixth Symphony in d major (1880), whose third movement is a Czech folk dance called furiant. Also correspond to these years his works masterpieces legends (1881) for Orchestra, the cantata the bride of the spectrum (1884) and the oratorio St. Ludmila (1885-1886), which together with the Requiem (1890) made the creator of oratory Czech Dvorak. A remarkable place of its production it is his Stabat mater of 1877. It is his most important sacred work was conceived to be performed in concert version, and not the religious liturgy It is a work of transparent orchestration, with an abundance of chromatics and meditative character. Other religious works that should be noted are the mass in d major Op. 86, for soloists, chorus and organ, and the Te Deum (1892) for soprano, low soloists, choir and Orchestra.

To be an excellent interpreter of viola, he was strongly inclined also to Chamber music. His scores of this genre include the string quartets and trios with piano, notably the Op. 90, better known as Dumky. In it do not use the classical four-movement structure, but uses six movements based on the dumka and divided them into two groups.

Antonin Dvorak. Adagio.

In the field of orchestral music he developed much of his talent, since in addition to his nine symphonies, wrote symphonic poems, concert overtures, Rhapsodies and concerts for instrument solo, among others. The Czech musician has been considered as a brahmsiano in the form, but Wagner sound sinfonista. His sixth Symphony in d major (1880), composed for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, was the first to provide international visibility within the field of symphonic music. But, without a doubt, his most famous Symphony is the ninth or the new world (1892). This last work has reminiscences of the Spirituals and the melodies of the plantations of the South of the United States heard Dvorak singing in New York to Harry T. Burleigh, a student of his. The composer conducted research on what would be the defining aspects of a musical style as American and came to the conclusion that the use of the pentatonic scale in the melodic line, plagales cadences (see Cadence) and syncopated rhythms were the most typical features of this music. These aspects are left to see in other works composed in the United States, such as the String Quartet No. 12 in f major, the String Quintet in e flat major and the Biblicke pisne (biblical songs). On the other hand, the Cello Concerto in Si minor, composed in America in 1895, does not contain the cited elements of American music and was written for cellist Czech Hanus Wihan.

In the last period of his work, Dvorak returned to the ways of his youth and paid special interest to operas and symphonic poem. Of all the operas from this period, in the author's life he only met success La Ondina (1900). Regarding his symphonic poems, include titles such as the fairy of the noon, the Golden wheel, Dove (all from 1896) and the heroic singing (1897).

Related terms

Romantic music.


CLAPHAM, JOHN: Antonin Dvorak, New York: Norton, 1979.

EDUARD, JOSÉ (et al.): Dvorak, Debussy, Barcelona: Parramon, 1982.

FUBINI, ENRICO: Romanticism, between music and philosophy, Valencia: Servei de Publicacions of the Universitat de València, 1999.

EINSTEIN, ALFRED: Music in the romantic era, Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1986.

LAYTON, ROBERT: Dvorak´s Symphonies and Concertos, London: BBC, 1978.

Selected discography

-Dvorak, at.: Complete Piano Trios. Performers: Beaux Arts Trio. PHILIPS 54259. -Dvorak, at.: Cello Concerto (+ J. Haydn Cello Concerto). Cast: Jacqueline DuPré (cello), Chicago Symphony Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra. Director: Daniel Barenboim. EMI CLASSICS 47614. -Dvorak, at.: Piano Quintet Op. 81 + piano Quartet Op. 87. cast: Panocha Quartet, András Schiff. TELDEC 0630-17142-2. -Dvorak, at.: Symphony No. 5. Performers: Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Mariss Jansons. EMI CLASSICS 749995 2. -Dvorak, at.: Symphonies No. 7, 8 and 9. Performers: Philharmonia Orchestra. Director: Carlo Maria Giulini. EMI CLASSICS 568628 2. -Dvorak, at.: Symphony No. 9 "from the new world" + American Suite. Performers: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Antal Dorati. LONDON CLASSICS 30702. -Dvorak, at.: SERENADES for Strings and Winds. Performers: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Director: Hugg Wolff. TELDEC 4509-97446-2 -Dvorak, a.: Slavonic Dances. Performers: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Lorin Maazel. EMI CLASSICS 569805 2. -Dvorak, at.: Violin Concerto. Cast: Maxim Vengerov (violin), New York Philharmonic. Director: Kurt Masur. TELDEC 4509-96300-2

Links on the Internet ; Czech and Slovak composers page. Contains biography of Dvorak and information about the work of the Bohemian composer.