Dvořák’s Carnival Overture: A Vibrant Celebration of Life

In 1892, Antonín Dvořák composed three concert overtures (In Nature’s Realm, Carnival, and Othello) inspired by poetic visions of “Nature, Life, and Love.” After examining the composer’s notes, the biographer, Otakar Šourek, wrote, Dvořák wished in this cycle to draw in overture-form musical pictures of three of the most powerful impressions to which the human soul is subjected: the impression of the solitary, wrapped about by the exalted stillness of the summer night; …

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Dvořák’s “Rusalka”: Four Key Excerpts

First performed on March 31, 1901 in Prague, Antonín Dvořák’s enduring fairytale opera in three acts, Rusalka, Op. 114, blends Slavic mythology with the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid . Rusalka is a water nymph who falls in love with a human—a Prince who happens one day to swim in her lake. She tells her father, the water goblin, that she wishes to become human to be with the …

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Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A Minor: Spirited Bohemian Strains

Once, while reflecting on his music, Antonín Dvořák commented, “I myself have gone to the simple, half-forgotten tunes of the Bohemian peasants for hints in my most serious works. Only in this way can a musician express the true sentiment of his people.” Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 overflows with the spirited strains of the composer’s Czech homeland. Bending sonata form and liberating the traditional structure of the concerto, …

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Dvorák’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major: Melodies Coming in Droves

As with Franz Schubert, Antonín Dvořák was a composer awash in melody. In a letter to a friend, dated August 10, 1889, Dvořák expressed gratitude for this seemingly effortless melodic stream: Do you want to know what I’m doing? My head is full of it. If only one could write it immediately! But it’s no use, I have to go slowly, only what the hand can manage and the Lord God will …

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Dvořák’s Humoresque in G-flat Major: Ignaz Friedman and Art Tatum

Antonín Dvořák was one of the greatest composers of melody. Perhaps the most catchy and popularly enduring example is the Humoresque No. 7 in G-flat Major (Poco lento e grazioso), originally written for solo piano. Propelled forward by an infectious, lilting rhythm, the melody develops in two-note steps which ascend gradually and explore a variety of motivic combinations before sinking into repose at the end of the phrase. As with much of …

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Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 14 in A-flat Major: The Cleveland Quartet

In 1892, Antonin Dvořák left his beloved Bohemian homeland to accept an invitation to serve as director of New York’s National Conservatory of Music. In his words, Dvořák had been brought to the New World to “discover what young Americans had in them, and to help them express it.” During the nearly three year stay, Dvořák traveled as far west as Spillville, Iowa, and composed some of his most famous works, including …

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Dvořák’s Symphonic Variations: Jubilant Explorations of an “Impossible” Theme

According to a popular story, Antonín Dvořák was once challenged by a friend to write a set of variations on a seemingly impossible theme. The year was 1877, and Dvořák had just completed the cycle, Choral Songs for Male Voices. It was the third and final song, Huslař (“The Fiddler”), which provided the theme for Dvořák’s orchestral showpiece, Symphonic Variations, Op. 78. The distinctive melody unfolds in an unusual and irregular metric structure of 7+6+7 bars. Harmonically, …

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