Antonín Dvořák


Antonín Leopold Dvořák

Born: 8 September 1841, Nelahozeves, Bohemia
Died: 1 May 1904, Prague

Antonín Leopold Dvořák was a Czech composer and musician considered one of the most versatile musical artists of his time and one of the first of his countrymen to draw global acclaim. Much like his predecessor Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák’s compositions frequently incorporated elements of folk music found in his native Bohemia and Moravia. His collection of songs and Slavonic Dances drew inspiration from Czech and other Slavic traditional music and folk dance forms while many of his tone poems and operas were inspired by Czech legends. Rising from obscurity, he became one of the most celebrated musicians of his day and is now regarded as the major Czech composer of the 19th century.

Born on September 8, 1841 in the small Bohemian village of Nelahozeves near Prague, Dvořák came from humble origins; his father was a butcher and kept an inn in the village. Though he was one of eight children, his parents took notice of their son’s musical gifts and fostered his education with violin lessons and participation in a village band. He was later sent to live with his uncle in the village of Zlonice to learn the butcher trade, but his music studies there led him to neglect his apprenticeship. After a stay in the northern Bohemian town of Česká Kamenice (Böhmisch Kamnitz), nominally to improve his German, he carried on his music studies there under Franz Hanke. By 1857, Dvořák was enrolled in the Prague Organ School, where he graduated an accomplished violinist, violist, pianist, and vocalist, with a strong foundation in performance and music theory. He later joined the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra, conducted by famous compatriot Smetana who took the helm in 1866. This position only afforded a meagre income. In order to devote himself to teaching and composing, Dvořák left the orchestra in 1871.

By thirty-one, Dvořák saw success with the first public performances of his work in Prague. Bolstered by this progress, he submitted a score of his First Symphony to a prize competition in Germany, though did not win. Undeterred, he made another submission to the Austrian State Prize for Composition in 1874, which included scores of two additional symphonies among. Unbeknownst to Dvořák at the time, the leading member of the jury was none other than Johannes Brahms who was decidedly impressed by his submission. Dvořák was awarded the prize, not only in 1874, but twice more in 1876 and 1877. The value of the prize was certainly not negligible (by contemporary Canadian standards worth $25,000 on each occasion), but its real value lay in the fact that Brahms now pushed Dvořák’s career forward, particularly by recommending him to the publisher Fritz Simrock.  The result was a spectacular increase in Dvořák’s fortunes, resulting in commissions (including the famous Slavonic Dances, Op. 46), tours abroad and a level of official recognition seldom accorded any artist. 

Dvořák was an extremely devout Catholic and his sacred music ranks among his greatest works. His setting of the 13th century Christian Hymn to Mary, Stabat Mater, premiered in Prague in 1880, followed by its London premiere three years later and played a crucial role in his international breakthrough as a composer. Over the course of his career, Dvořák would be invited to perform in England on nine occasions and would write his Seventh Symphony specifically for London. Around the same time he also completed his Dumky Trio, one of his most acclaimed chamber works. In 1889 he was received in audience by the emperor and awarded the Cross of Merit “for devotion and proven loyalty to the emperor and the fatherland.”  He received honourary doctorates from Prague and Cambridge Universities in 1891. The following year he accepted the post of the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. His years in America would see the completion of his two most successful orchestral masterpieces, the Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” and his Cello Concerto — the former would cement his international reputation and the latter would become one of the most celebrated cello concertos in the repertoire. The American String Quartet, one of his most beloved pieces of chamber music, was also written during this time. Despite the creative achievements of his transatlantic venture, Dvořák’s salary was only partially paid. Moreover, he struggled with a deep pang of longing for his homeland, and in 1895 he left the United States and returned to Bohemia.  Enthusiastically acclaimed, Dvořák became the most publicly lauded and acknowledged composer in the history of the Habsburg Monarchy.  In 1897 was made a Member of Vienna’s exclusive Society of the Friends of Music.  That year he was also the beneficiary of a specific directive of the Imperial Ministry of Education, which, in raising the operational grant to the Prague Conservatory explicitly stipulated that Dvořák’s salary was to be raised to the highest level possible as a condition of the grant increase.  Shortly thereafter, upon the death of his by now close friend, Brahms, he succeeded the latter on the Commission for the Austrian State Music Prize and was made nominal Director of the Prague Conservatory.  The next year he was given the high and rare distinction of being awarded the Imperial Order of Merit for the Arts and Sciences, which only one other musician, Brahms, had held before him.  And finally, on his 60th birthday in 1901 he was made a life-time member of the Austrian Imperial House of Lords – the first musician ever to receive this honor.

Dvořák’s last years were devoted to opera, including his internationally most successful Rusalka (1900). He was still considering more texts when he fell ill with a severe case of influenza, and after some weeks died of a stroke on 1 May 1904 at the age of 62. He is buried in the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague, beneath a bust by Czech sculptor Ladislav Šaloun.

Online Performances

Musical selections curated by our founding director, Professor Franz Szabo.

Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104
Yo Yo Ma, cello
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Jiří Bělohlávek, conductor
Live from Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 7 September 2015
Dvořák Prague Festival, 2015

Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53
Anne Sophie Mutter, violin
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Manfred Honek, conductor
Live from the Phiharmonie, Berlin, 2013

Sonatina in G Major, Op. 100 
Ilya Gringolts, violin
Peter Laul, piano
Live from the Sala Verdi del Conservatorio, Milan, Italy 4 March 2019 

Piano Trio No. 3 in F-minor, op. 65
Haydn Chamber Ensemble
Luca Monti, piano; Cornelia Löscher, violin; Hannes Gradwohl, cello
Live from the Gustav Mahler Saal, Toblach, South Tyrol, 25 July 2017
Gustav Mahler Musikwochen 

Piano Trio No. 4 "Dumky" in E minor, Op.90
Annette von Hehn, violin
Stefan Heinemeyer, cello
Thomas Hoppe, piano
live recording from the Konzerthaus Berlin, 8 January 2019 

Piano Quartet in E flat, Op.87
The Schubert Ensemble
Simon Blendis, violin
Douglas Paterson, viola
Jane Salmon, cello
William Howard, piano
Recorded live at Forde Abbey, Dorset, UK, 21 June 2018. 

Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81
Nikki Chooi and Baiba Skride, violins; Amihai Grosz, viola;
Harriet Krijgh, cello; Magda Amara, piano
Live from the TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, Netherlands, 30 June 2017
Internationaal Kamermuziek Festival Utrecht 

String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 (“American”)
The New York Philharmonic String Quartet
Frank Huang and Sheryl Staples, violins; Cynthia Phelps, viola; Carter Brey, cello
Live from the West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, NJ, 20 November 2016.
Parlance Chamber Concerts 

String Quartet No. 13 in G Major, Op. 106
Attacca Quartet
Amy Schroeder and Domenic Salerni, violins
Nathan Schram, viola; Andrew Yee, cello
Live from the Eric Harvie Theatre at Banff Centre, September 2013
11th Banff International String Quartet Competition, Banff Alberta 

Serenade for winds in D minor, Op. 44
London Winds & Russian National Orchestra joint ensemble
Michael Collins, clarinet; Dmitry Aizenstadt, clarinet; Gareth Hulse, oboe;
Olga Tomilova, oboe; Julie Price, bassoon; Andrei Shamidanov, bassoon;
Elizaveta Vilkovyskaya, double bassoon; Laurence Davies, horn; Alexei Serov, horn; German Bushuev, horn; Alexander Gotgelf, cello; Rustem Gabdullin, double bass.
Live from Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Moscow, Russia, 9 September 2012 

Serenade for strings in E major, Op. 22
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra
Gordan Nikolić (violin / concertmaster)
Live from the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 27 November 2016. 

Slavonic Dances, Op. 46
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Zoltán Kocsis, conductor
Live from Sainte-Bernadette Church, Annecy, France, 18 August 2014
5th Interntional Annecy Classic Festival opening concert 

Slavnostní Pochod, Op. 54
(Festival March dedicated to Emperor Franz Joseph)
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Vladimír Válek, conductor
Live from the Spanish Hall, Prague Castle, 2 May 2004 

Czech suite in D major, Op. 39
Academic Chamber Soloists Prague
Lukas Pohunek, conductor
Live from the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, February 2014 

Carnival, concert overture, Op. 92
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Jakub Hrůša, conductor
Live from Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 1 January 2020 

Silent Woods (“Waldesruhe”) Op. 68, No. 5
(Dvořák’s arrangement for cello and orchestra)
Eline Hensels, cello
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Elim Chan, conductor
Live from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, 19 January 2020 

The Noon Witch (Polednice), Op. 108
Frankfurt Radio Symphony
Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor
Live from the Alte Oper Frankfurt, 9 December 2016 

The Golden Spinning Wheel (Zlatý kolovrat), Op. 109
Essener Philharmoniker
Tomás Netopil, conductor
Live from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, 6 september 2015 

The Wild Dove (Holoubek), Op. 110
Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen
Fabrice Bollon, conductor
Live from the De Bijloke Music Centre, Ghent, November 2012 

Cigánské melodie Op. 55, No.4, “Songs My Mother Taught Me”
(Když mne stará matka zpívat učívala / Als die alte Mutter sang)
(orchestral version)
Ernestina Jošt, soprano
Gimnazija Kranj Symphony Orchestra
Gimnazija Kranj Girls Choir
Gimnazija Kranj Mixed Choir
Nejc Bečan, conductor
Live from Gallus Hall, Cankerjev dom, Ljuljana, Slovenia
Christmas Concert 2018 

Stabat mater, Op. 58
Luba Orgonášová, soprano; Elisabeth Kulman, alto;
Saimir Pirgu, tenor; Roben Drole, bass
Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor
Live from the Stefaniensaal, Graz, Austria, 30 June 2012
Styriarte Festival 2012 

Requiem, op. 89
Simona Šaturová, soprano; Veronika Hajnová mezzosoprano;
Richard Samek, tenor; Martin Gurbal´, bass
Czech Philharmonic Choir, Brno, choirmaster Petr Fiala
Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra of Ostrava
Jakub Hrůša, conductor
Opening concert of the St. Wenceslas Music Festival, Ostrava, 1 September 2014. 

Te Deum, Op. 103
Livia Agova, soprano
Ivan Kusnjer, bass
Prague Philharmonic Choir
Prague Symphony Orchestra
Jiří Bělohlávek, conductor
Live from Alte Oper, Frankfurt, 1993 

Rusalka, Opera in three acts, Op. 114
Natalie Romanová-Achaladze (Rusalka), Valentín Prolat (The Prince),
Jiří Sulženko (The Watersprite), Adriana Hlavsová (Ježibaba),
Anda-Louise Bogza (The Foreign Princess), Aleš Šťáva (The Gamekeeper),
Martina Králiková (The Turnspit), Richard Haan (A Huntsman)
Jaroslava Hýlová, Hana Fojtková and Marika Žáková (Three Woodnymphs)
Orchsetra, Choir and Ballet of the National Theater, Brno, Moravia
Jan Zbavitel, conductor
Live from the Janáček Theatre, Brno, 4 October 1999 

Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Rafael Kubelík, conductor
Live from the Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich, 1978 

Symphony No 8 in G major, Op. 88
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orcchestra
Ben Gernon, condctor
Live from the Alte Oper Frankfurt, 20 September 2019 

Symphony No 9 in E minor, Op. 95 (“From the New World”)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony
Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor
Live from the Alte Oper Frankfurt, 25 May 2018 

Watch the full collection of performances on our YouTube channel!