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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Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 2 in G Minor: Elegiac and Transcendent

Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 2 in G minor, Op. 26 was written in the wake of personal tragedy. In August of 1875, Dvořák lost his newborn daughter, Josefa, within days of her birth. The G minor Piano Trio was composed four months later. Written over the course of seventeen days, it was the first piece Dvořák completed following the painful loss, and it opened the creative floodgates for music to come. …

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Dvořák’s “Slavonic Dances”: Sublime Bohemian Miniatures

Today marks the 180th anniversary of the birth of Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). The legacy of the famous Czech Romanticist includes monumental symphonies, nationalistic tone poems, chamber music, opera, and the soulful and nostalgic Cello Concerto. Yet, it was the sixteen Slavonic Dances, almost singlehandedly, that lifted Dvořák out of relative obscurity and poverty. These sublime Bohemian miniatures were published in two sets (Op. 46 and 72) in 1878 and 1886. In a letter to Brahms, the …

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Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony: Sunny Bohemian Pastures

Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 is the music of sunny Bohemian pastures. Warm, effortlessly flowing melodies meet the fiery, exuberant rhythms of a Czech folk dance. A sense of blissful, bucolic grandeur permeates the entire Symphony. As the biographer Otakar Sourek noted, “it breathes the sweet fragrance and unspoiled beauty of Czech woods and meadows.” Dvořák’s first five symphonies can be heard as exercises in the mastery of the form. In the …

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Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings: Nocturnal Melodies

The word serenade brings to mind serene music of the evening. In the Middle Ages, the serenade was a musical greeting performed for a friend or lover. Later, it evolved into a divertimento with a series of contrasting movements. Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik may be the most famous example of this kind of light party music. Brahms’ two serenades were more weighty. They served as stepping stones for a composer who was dedicated to perfecting his …

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Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony: A Sunny Bohemian Adventure

Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major inhabits a sunny, pastoral world filled with Bohemian folk melodies, rustic peasant dances, distant horn calls, and echoes of the birdsongs of the forest. It’s an enchanting world of exuberant celebration and quiet, lamenting nostalgia. Following the restless and stormy Seventh Symphony, Dvořák remarked that the Eighth, completed in the autumn of 1889, was “different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out …

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Remembering Aaron Rosand

The American violinist Aaron Rosand passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92. Rosand has been described as “one of the last living connections to the golden age of violinists.” Following an April, 1970 recital, Harold C. Schonberg, longtime critic at The New York Times, wrote that “Romanticism on the violin had a rebirth last night in Carnegie Hall.” Long revered within the music community, Aaron Rosand undoubtedly deserved greater name recognition among the wider public. …

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