Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Antonín Dvořák is a composer who deeply impacted the development of 19th century music while seeking to globalize Nationalism music. His music which remained faithful to the principles and rules of music and sought to maintain the essence of melody and rhythm gave birth to the artistic works of great depth including symphonies, concertos, trios, quartets, etc., within genera of classical music.
Furthermore, his attempts to fuse eastern and western styles of music by combining the traditional Slavonic folk music with new continental music based upon traditional 18th century harmony and the counterpoint of Palestrina (who guided the history of 16th century music) have paved the way for today’s music, providing direction and exemplifying the limitless possibilities for musical development.
Antonín Dvořák was born in 1841 in the small village of Nelahozeves in Bohemia as the eldest of František and Anna Dvořák’s nine children. His parents ran a butcher shop and a motel. His father who skillfully played the zither (a traditional stringed instrument of the Tirol province), loved music so much so that he even composed and performed his own dance pieces. In this environment, Antonín Dvořák learned the simple customs and folk music of the Czech people, and grew in close proximity to musical activities, even learning the violin.
At the age of 6, Dvořák attended elementary school, played the violin, and participated in choir. Thereafter, he was sent to study German, Violin, Viola, and keyboard performance, along with harmony under the tutelage of Antonín Liehmann in the village of Zlonice. In 1857, at the age of 16, Dvořák was admitted to a Prague organ school and in 1859, two years later, he graduated second in his class. After graduation, Dvořák took the opportunity to study various scores while staying at the home of former classmate Karel Bendl, who later became his ardent supporter. Thereafter, Dvořák was admitted to Karel Komzák’s orchestra as a viola player and performed in various locations. In 1873, he met the daughter of a metal-crafts merchant named Anna Čermáková. In 1870, the first act of Dvořák’s opera Král a uhlíř was performed for the first time in Prague, and in 1873, his first work for combined choir and wind/stringed instruments Hymnus was conducted by Bendl for the first time, after which time Dvořák’s reputation as a composer was solidified.
Antonín Dvořák’s ambition to compose, despite his impoverished situation, only increased over time, and eventually led him to submit a composition to a national scholarship foundation for young artists. It was at this time that his relationships with Johannes Brahms and the musical scholar Eduard Hanslick, who were part of the judging committee, were formed. Brahms introduced him to Fritz Simrock Publishers of Berlin and through this company he published his Slavonic Dances which received favorable reviews and made him a renowned composer. On the heels of this great fortune, Dvořák was suddenly struck by a great tragedy as he lost three of his children (two sons, one daughter) due to illness from 1875-1877. However, during this time, Dvořák found comfort in the suffering figure of Jesus Christ and went on to write Stabat Mater(1876~1877), which became a great success. This composition became not only a great piece of Czech church music, but is now considered one of the greatest classical compositions worldwide.
“My motto is and always will be : God, Love, and Homeland!
Only these things lead to ultimate happiness.”
In 1882, Dvořák’s opera Tvrdé palice was presented in Dresden, and from 1884 to 1896 he visited England nine times and received requests to compose Symphony No. 8 in G Major(1889) and Requiem(1890), among other works. The 43 year-old Dvořák purchased a plot of land from Count Kaunits who resided in the Vysoká province and built a two-story home, planted a garden, and raised doves, all while thoroughly enjoying a rustic lifestyle. His piety for God and love of nature and country is embedded in his lyrical and folk melodies, rhythms, and harmonies, and is clearly expressed in his music.
In 1890, Antonín Dvořák was honored by the Austrian Emperor with the Order of the Iron Crown, and the following year he was admitted into the Czech Academy of Science, Literature and Art. He also received honorary doctorates from Charles-Ferdinand University and Cambridge University. In October of that year he became a professor of composition at the Prague Conservatoire and produced a number of talented apprentices, including Josef Suk and Vítězslav Novák. Suk eventually married Dvořák’s daughter Otilie.
Having composed Te Deum in the fall of 1892, Antonín Dvořák was invited to direct the National Conservatory of Music in America, located in New York City, at the behest of a Ms. Jeanette Thurber. He remained there until 1895, and it was during this time that he completed his final Symphony, No. 9 From the New World(1893). After returning to his homeland, he once again took up his position as Director of the Prague Conservatoire and contributed much as an educator. Showing an interest in Opera, he brought forth Rusalka in 1900, and in 1901 he went on to become the first composer to ever become a member of the House of Lords in Vienna. However, not long thereafter, in the Spring of 1904, as the Czech Music Festival was being held in Prague, Dvořák passed away on the first of May due to stroke. The funeral was a national event and afterwards Dvořák came to rest eternally in Vyšehrad Cemetary.
His reputation has continued to live on long after his death. In 1969, Neil Armstrong and the other astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission enjoyed his Symphony No. 9 while flying to the moon. In 1974, the newly discovered asteroid No. 2055 was named “Dvořák” in his honor.