Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was one of the first Czech composers to receive worldwide recognition. He was born in Nelahozeves in the Austrian Empire (now the Czech Republic). It was assumed that he would become an innkeeper and butcher like his father, but he had an innate talent for music that was discovered when he began playing the violin for visitors at his father's inn. When he was 12, he moved to Zlonice to live with an aunt and uncle and began studying harmony, piano, and the organ.
Dvořák's most famous piece is his
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor (From the New World).
You can listen to it here
In 1873, Dvořák married Anna Čermáková, a pianist and singer. The first few years of their marriage were difficult as they tried to get through financial troubles and the deaths of several of their infant children. But things eventually turned around and they had six children together.
In 1875 Dvořák was awarded a grant by the Austrian government, which brought him into contact with Johannes Brahms, with whom he formed a close friendship. Brahms gave him valuable technical advice and found him an influential publisher, with whom he published the Moravian Duets and Slavonic Dances. These pieces attracted worldwide attention to Dvořák and to his country’s music.
In 1892, Dvořák accepted the position of director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. While in New York, Dvořák wrote, among other great works, his most famous piece, Symphony No. 9 in E Minor (From the New World). This remains his best-known work, partly, no doubt, because it was thought to be based on African American spirituals and other influences gained during his years in the United States. Although this may be true to some extent, the music is also characteristically Bohemian in its themes.
Dvořák enjoyed his time in the United States, or the "New World," but soon became homesick and returned to Bohemia in 1895. In his final years, he wrote several string quartets, symphonic poems, and his last three operas.
Dvořák’s popularity stems from his expertly crafted melodies and in the delightfully fresh Czech character of his music, which offered a welcome contrast to the heavier qualities of some of his contemporaries. He often used rhythms and other aspects of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. His style has been described as "the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them."
Listen to an NPR segment on Dvořák's New World Symphony here
Time for some questions!
1. What year and where was Antonín Dvořák born?
2. What was the instrument that Dvořák first learned to play?
3. What is Dvořák's most famous piece of music and why?
4. Where did Dvořák write the above piece of music?
1. 1841 Nelahozeves in the Austrian Empire (now the Czech Republic)
3. Symphony No. 9 in E Minor (From the New World) - it was thought to be based on African American spirituals and other influences gained during his years in the United States, but it was also characteristically Bohemian in its themes.
4. New York