Antonin Dvořak (1841 - 1904)
String Quartet No. 9 in D minor, Op. 34
Terzetto in C major, Op. 74
Antonin Dvořakwas born in 1841, the son of a butcher and innkeeper in the village of Nelahozeves, near Kralupyin Bohemia and someforty miles north of Prague. It was natural that heshould follow the example of his father and grandfather by learning the familytrade, and to this end he left school at the age of eleven. There is noreliable record of his competence in butchery, but his musical abilities wereearly apparent, and in 1853 he was sent to lodge with an uncle in Zlonice,where he continued an apprenticeship started at home, learning German andimproving his knowledge of music, a rudimentary skill in which he had alreadyacquired at home and in the village band and church. Further study of Germanand of music at Kamenice, a town in northern Bohemia, led to hisadmission, in 1857, to the Prague Organ School, from whichhe graduated two years later.
In the yearsthat followed, Dvořak earned his living as a viola-player in a band underthe direction of Karel Komzak which was to form the nucleus of the ProvisionalTheatre Orchestra, established in 1862. Four years later Smetana was appointedconductor of the opera-house, where this Czech operas The Brandenburgers in
Bohemla and The Bartered Bride had already been performed. It wasnot unti11871 that Dvořak resigned from the theatre orchestra, to devotemore time to composition, as his music began to draw some favourable localattention. Two years later he married and early in 1874 became organist of the church of St Adalbert. During thisperiod he continued to support himself by private teaching, while busy on aseriesof compositions that gradually became known to a wider circle.
Furtherrecognition came with the award of a Ministry of Education stipendium by acommittee in Vienna thatincluded the critic Eduard Hans1ick and Brahms for a number of compositionssubmitted to the committee in 1874. The following year Dvořak failed towin the award, but was successful in 1876 and again in 1877. His fourthapp1ication brought the personal interest of Hans1ick and Brahms and aconnection with Simrock, the latter's pub1isher, who expressed a wish topub1ish the Moravian Duets and commissioned a set of Slavonic Dances forpiano duet. These compositions won particular popularity. There were visits to Germany, as well asto England, where hewas always received with greater enthusiasm than a Czech composer would ever atthat time have won in Vienna. The series ofcompositions that followed secured him an unassailable position in Czech musicand a place of honour in the larger world.
Early in 1891Dvořak became professor of composition at Prague Conservatory. In thesummer of the same year he was invited to become director of theNationa1Conservatory of Musician New York, a venture which, it was hoped, wouldlay the foundations for American national music. The very Bohemian musica1results of Dvořak's time in America are well known. Here hewrote his Ninth Symphony, From the New World, its themesinfluenced, at least, by what he had heard of indigenous American Indian andNegro music, his American Quartet and a charming Sonatina forviolin and piano. In 1895 he returned home to his work at the PragueConservatory, writing in the following year a series of symphonic poems andbefore the end of the century two more operas, to add to the nine he had a1readycomposed. He died in Prague in 1904.
The QuartetNo.9 in D minor, Opus 34, was completed in late 1877 and dedicated toBrahms. The quartet was revised in 1879 and first performed in Prague on 27th February 1882. The periodof composition came soon after news of the further Vienna grantoffered him, with the possibility of the publication of the Moravian Duets throughthe agency of Brahms and his publisher Simrock. The work shows completetechnical assurance, its first movement tinged with a certain melancholy, asmemories of the death of his daughter still recurred. The thematic material andits treatment sometimes recalls Schubert, with elements of the same composer's'heavenly length', leading to a histrionic conclusion. The second movement, Allapolka, is a now characteristic replacement for the expected scherzo,essentially a folk-dance with a contrasting trio section. This leads to ameditative slow movement of great beauty, which includes finally reminiscencesof the first movement. The last movement, in tripartite sonata-form; startswith an energetic rhythmic figure that gives rise to rapid figuration inaccompaniment and development.
Dvořakwrote his Terzetto inC major, Opus 74, in 1887, designing it originallyfor the amateur violinist Josef Kruis, a chemistry student lodging in the samehouse in Prague, and histeacher, the violinist Jan Pelikan. In the event Kruis found the part assignedto him beyond his technical ability, and Dvořak then w rote music of asimpler cast, the Bagatelles, Opus 75a, also scored for two violins andviola, although subsequently arranged by the composer for violin and pianounder the title Romantic Pieces, Opus 75. The Terzetto opens in acharacteristically lyrical Bohemian mood, contrasted with darker hued musicthat introduces an element of agitation. The slow movement, breathing a spiritof rural serenity, the peace of the Bohemian countryside, follows at once, itsfirst thematic material framing a central section of leaping dotted rhythms.
The third movement is a Scherzo, a furiant, accompanied at first by theplucked strings of the viola, a rhythmic and energetic dance to which thegently lilting Trio provides a clear contrast, before the return of the Scherzo,with its sense of urgency. The Terzetto ends with a theme andvariations. After a dramatic opening, the theme is heard, followed by a seriesof variations that have their own moments of dramatic tension in a texture inwhich the absence of a cello is never for a moment noticed, while tonalityshifts to reach a final C minor.