Slavonic Dances : Work information
- Antonín (Leopold) Dvorák ( Music, Images,)
- Performed by
- Joseph Seiger (Piano), Mischa Elman (Violin)
- Work name
- Slavonic Dances
- Work number
- Op. 72
- 1887-01-01 02:00:00
- Seymour Solomon
- Marc Aubort
- Recording date
- 1960-06-01 01:00:00
Antonín (Leopold) Dvorák
Born near Prague, Dvorák studied the violin with his local school master. Then, between 1857 and 1859, he attended the Prague Organ School. He was influenced by the Czech composer Smetana who, from 1866, directed the Opera Orchestra in which Dvorák played the viola. From about 1873, he devoted most of his life to composition. He won the Austrian State Stipendium three times, in 1874, 1876 and 1877. This got the attention of the composer Johannes Brahms , who in 1878 arranged for the publisher Simrock to publish some of Dvorák’s works. Under this arrangement, Dvorák’s music began to be performed throughout Europe. Some of these early works include the Slavonic Dances, the Symphony No. 6 and the Stabat Mater. He received several commissions, particularly in England, where he was very popular and much admired. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate by Cambridge University.
In 1891 Dvorák became a Professor of Composition at the Prague Conservatoire, and before leaving for the USA he toured Bohemia playing the new Dumky Trio. From 1892 until 1895 he was the Director of the new National Conservatory in New York, teaching composition. During this period of his life, his compositions show his deep interest in American folk music. These include the famous Symphony No. 9 ('From the New World'), the String Quartet in F, the String Quintet in E flat and the Cello Concerto.
Homesickness took him back to Prague, where he began to write symphonic poems. He received many honours in his own country and resisted invitations by Brahms to move to Vienna where he was only grudgingly accepted. His attempts at dramatic music were eventually rewarded with the success of the opera Rusalka (1901). He died in 1904, shortly after the first performances of his last opera, Armida. The late 19th century brought an increasing awareness of national identity to various ethnic groups in Europe and Dvorák’s musical career was influenced by the spirit of Bohemian nationalism.
When Dvorak sent Brahms a copy of his Moravian Duets, the older composer was so impressed he petitioned his own publisher, Simrock, to publish them. So began a life-long friendship with Brahms and a long and, at times, stormy relationship with Simrock.
In 1878 Simrock, anxious for another success on the lines of Brahms' Hungarian Dances, suggested Dvorak write his own set of national dances. The first set of Slavonic Dances were written for piano duet, with an orchestral version following soon after. When they appeared in August 1878 as Op. 46, Dvorak received just 300 marks, a tiny amount compared to the fortune Simrock would make from them. A second set (Op. 72) appeared in 1887, Dvorak making a more reasonable sum of 3000 marks, a testament to the univeral appeal of Op. 46.
Although both sets draw on the folk dances of Dvorak's native Bohemia, an actual folk tune is rarely quoted. Dvorak manages to create a sense of national style through his own innate melodic and rhythmic gifts.
The second set is more mature in style and more polished than the first. Its second dance is particularly appealing and begins with a beguiling string melody accompanied by pizzicato lower strings. Other highlights include the bubbling energy of the penultimate dance, and the final sousedská; its relaxed waltz-like tune brings the work to a subdued close.