Antonin Dvorak, Hanus Wihan, and the Cello Concerto in B Minor


Classical Academy | ComposersPerformers | Romantic PeriodInstruments

 

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, born in a small village just outside Prague, loved the folk idioms of his native Bohemia. In 1892 he undertook a five-month tour of Czech towns with his close friend Hanus Wihan, the greatest cellist of his generation. The friends had difficulty, however, in agreeing on their shared interest in composition and cello playing respectively. Wihan had asked Dvorak to write a concerto for him, which he desired to premiere as he had taken part in other Dvorak debut performances. Dvorak disagreed, however - he felt that the concerto form did not provide the best platform with which to showcase the beauty and tonal colourings of the cello since he believed the orchestra would drown it out.

 

To the delight of Wihan, not to mention music lovers today, Dvorak eventually composed the Cello Concerto in B minor, his last composition for a solo instrument. Bearing Wihan's style in mind, he penned the work and took on board suggestions made by his friend on seeing the draft manuscript. Dvorak refused, however, to incorporate Wiahn's suggestion for a cadenza that clashed with the composer's wishes to dedicate the final movement to his sickly sister-in-law.

 

Although there is no truth to the rumour that the two men fell out over proceedings, Wihan did not end up playing at the work's premiere in London due to commitments with his Czech String Quartet. He did later perform the piece in The Hague, at Amsterdam and in Budapest, which was the last time it was performed under the composer's baton. Interestingly, the original score written by Dvorak, prior to Wihan's suggested edits, is considered far more musical and is sometimes performed instead of the revised piece. Listen to this beautiful yet contentious concerto on this lovely recording, which also features Dvorak's 9th Symphony in E minor.