Viola Power: Dvorak’s “American” Quartet

The viola is the stereotypical underdog of the string family. The occasional butt of lighthearted jokes, in the orchestra it often escapes the limelight. When the first violins claim the melody and soar into the sonic stratosphere, the violas provide a mellow and essential inner voice.

But this is only half the story. The viola comes with its own distinct voice and persona, and when it takes center stage, it has a lot to say. It’s the viola that boldly and spiritedly opens Antonin Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96, nicknamed the “American.” This is the piece Dvorak wrote in the Bohemian immigrant town of Spillville, Iowa during the summer of 1893. (The “New World” Symphony was completed the same year). In the final bars of the “American” Quartet‘s final movement, listen to the way the viola heroically holds its own with the first violin in this emphatically exuberant back and forth dialogue:

Interestingly, Dvorak spent his early years playing the viola in Bohemian dance bands, eventually becoming principal violist of the Czech Opera Orchestra. You can hear the complete “American” String Quartet here.

  • Find the Cleveland Quartet’s recording, featured above: Amazon

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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