Antonín Dvořák

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Antonín Dvořák, 1882
Dvořák signature

Antonín Leopold Dvořák listen ? / I [ antɔɲiːn lɛɔpɔlt dvɔr̝aːk ] (*,  8. September 1841 in Nelahozeves , †  1. May 1904 in Prague ) was a Czech composer of Romantic . His versatile work includes nine symphonies and numerous other orchestral works, operas , vocal music , chamber music as well as piano and organ pieces. Dvořák is the most performed Czech composer in the world. Audio file / audio sample


Origin and youth

Antonín Dvořák's birthplace in Nelahozeves
Dvořák as a boy

Antonín Dvořák's father František Dvořák (1814–1894) ran a restaurant and a butcher's shop ; later he gave up the butcher's shop and earned his living as a zither player . There were two uncles in the father's family who were professional musicians. The mother Anna, nee Zdeňková, was the daughter of the manager of Prince Lobkowitz. The two had married on November 17, 1840, a year before Antonín was born, and Antonín was the first of nine children in that marriage.

At the age of six he went to school in his native town of Nelahozeves (Mühlhausen), which is located near Prague, where he received violin lessons from his teacher Joseph Spitz. In 1853 he moved to Zlonice (Slonitz) to learn German, without which one could not get along in Bohemia . He learned piano and organ with the local cantor Anton Liehmann. During this time Dvořák occasionally played the organ, took part in his teacher's chapel and began to compose. Although, according to Dvořák, his teacher was strict and irascible, the pupil held him in high regard. In the opera The Jacobin he erected a monument to him.

Contrary to a long-held legend supported by a forged journeyman's letter, there are no indications that Dvořák's parents wanted to push him into the butcher's trade or that he started training in this field.

In autumn 1856 Dvořák went to Česká Kamenice (Bohemian-Kamnitz), presumably to improve his knowledge of German and to prepare for the German-speaking Prague organ school . From October 1857 he attended the organ school for two years, as well as the German advanced training school of the Franciscan monastery at Maria Schnee , and joined the orchestra of the Cäcilienverein, which performs twice a year, under the direction of Anton Apt , as a violist . In 1859 he graduated from the organ school as the second best.

First years as a professional musician

Since Dvořák's attempts to get a job as an organist failed, he worked as a violist in Karl Komzák's private orchestra from the summer of 1859 , which played potpourris , overtures and dances in coffeehouses and in public places . This life as a musician dragged on for eleven years without Dvořák going public with his own compositions. He burned those he didn't like. Judging by the works that have survived, however, he seems to have developed his compositional style on an autodidactic basis almost according to plan, starting with Mozart through Mendelssohn and Schumann to Wagner at the end of the 1870s. In terms of musical forms, the focus was initially on the string quartet.

From 1862 Komzák's band played in the newly opened Prague Interim Theater, which in 1865 was completely absorbed by the opera orchestra and in which Dvořák was first violist. The interim theater was - until the construction of the national theater - the first theater in which nationally influenced Czech operas and plays could develop. Bedřich Smetana , whose operas The Brandenburger in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride, premiered in 1866, played an important role in this context .

From 1865 Dvořák gave piano lessons in addition to his work at the theater. The sisters Josefina and Anna Čermáková were among his students. He fell in love with the sixteen-year-old Josefina and married Anna, who was eleven at the time, eight years later, on November 17, 1873.

Step to the public

In 1870 Dvořák wrote his first opera Alfred on a German-language libretto by Theodor Körner , but it was never performed during his lifetime and was probably more of a practice piece. The first work intended for the public was the opera The King and the Koehler, based on a libretto in Czech by Bernhard J. Lobeský. To have more time for composing, he gave up his position as an orchestral musician in July 1871. Simultaneously with the composition, he performed songs, chamber music works and the hymn Die Erben des Weißen Berg for choir and orchestra from 1871 to 1873 , which were well to enthusiastically received. With the latter patriotic work he achieved his breakthrough.

With his opera Der König und der Koehler alone he was less fortunate. The rehearsals recorded at the interim theater in 1873 were soon canceled because the work was considered too difficult and unsingable. Dvořák then reconsidered his compositional style and turned away from the New German School . He rewrote his opera and performed it successfully in November 1874.

In the same year Dvořák began to teach at a private music school and took up the position of organist in February, which he held until February 1877.

International breakthrough

Between 1874 and 1877 the composer was awarded an annual state scholarship. Eduard Hanslick was a member of the reviewing committee, and later Johannes Brahms as well . This finally helped Dvořák to his final breakthrough in 1877 by campaigning for his publisher Fritz Simrock (1838–1901) to publish the Sounds from Moravia , a collection of duets. At the same time, this was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the two composers.

Trips abroad

Dvořák with his wife Anna in London, 1886

In 1884 Dvořák made the first of several trips to London at the invitation of the Philharmonic Society . There he performed his Stabat Mater (1880). The oratorios Die Geisterbraut based on a ballad by Karel Jaromír Erben and Saint Ludmilla , the first major Czech-language oratorio, were commissioned for Birmingham and Leeds in this and the following year .

After his first trip to London, Dvořák bought a summer residence in Vysoká near Příbram , where he lived far away from the city in accordance with his love of nature. In his public activities, too, a quieter phase can be discerned from 1887 onwards, in which he accepted fewer commissions, revised older works and composed the opera Die Jakobiner .

At the beginning of 1889, Dvořák undertook a concert tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg at the invitation of the Imperial Russian Music Society . After another visit to London , he returned to Prague, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Charles University . In October 1890 he finally accepted a position as professor at the Prague Conservatory , which he had already been offered in January 1889, which he had initially turned down because of his other obligations. Among his students in Prague were Vítězslav Novák , Oskar Nedbal and Josef Suk , who later married Dvořák's daughter Otilie.

In 1891 he was awarded the Order of the Iron Crown of III by the Emperor in Vienna . Class, he became a member of the Academy of Sciences in Prague and received honorary doctorates from the Czech University in Prague and the University of Cambridge .

In the New World

In September 1892 Dvořák took up a position as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. The position was endowed with $ 15,000 annually and was an attractive financial offer for Dvořák at the time, even if he had to find a solution for his family for this long stay. His wife, daughter Otilie and son Antonín accompanied him. The other four children only came to the USA for the summer months of 1893, which the family spent in Spillville , Iowa , which is dominated by the Czech Republic .

The initiator of the offer was the President Jeannette Thurber , who was guided by the idea of ​​separating America from the dominance of European art music and promoting a national American art idiom . Dvořák was inspired by this idea and studied the spirituals of black plantation workers and Indian melodies, in which he saw the basis for characteristic American music. Taking into account the roots of American culture, the themes are usually built in a classical periodic manner and sometimes take up the folk song tone that is so characteristic of Dvořák's Bohemian homeland. The so-called Americanisms are limited to a few details (see below).

Dvořák wrote some of his most famous works for New York: The Symphony No. 9 From the New World (1893), the Te Deum and the String Quartet op. 96 , which is often referred to as the American String Quartet . Here the influence of the country showed itself in certain peculiarities of the composition such as pentatonic , a lowered leading tone , the scotch snap and the syncopation .

One of Dvořák's main tasks at the Conservatory was teaching composition. Rubin Goldmark was one of his students.

End of stay in America

Officially, Dvořák's contract was initially concluded for two years, then extended by two years. However, he traveled home in April 1895. One reason for this may have been the financial situation of his patron Thurber, which had deteriorated dramatically due to the economic crisis, so that he had to wait several times for his salary. However, he himself cited his children as the reason, for whose care he was concerned in Prague and from whom his wife did not want to be separated.

So Dvořák initially spent a few quiet months in Vysoká before resuming his work at the Prague Conservatory in November. For a short time he considered moving to Vienna , where he could have got a position at the conservatory, but then decided against it. During this time his last string quartets were written .

Symphonic poems

The year 1896 marked Dvořák's departure from absolute music . He had already written works that could be described as program music, especially the Poetic Mood Pictures for piano in 1889 , which he called "program music , but in the sense of Schumann ", or the Dumky Trio (a piano trio) in the same year . But now he turned directly to symphonic poetry , a genre that had played an important role in the dispute over the New German School around Franz Liszt and Wagner.

Within a year he wrote Aquarius , the Midday Witch , the Golden Spinning Wheel and The Wood Dove , all based on ballads from the Kytice collection of the Czech poet Karel Jaromír Erben . He gave summaries of the respective plot to the listeners in prose form. In addition, the next year there was the hero song , the program of which he did not explicitly publish, but which he explained in a letter.

The last few years

Dvořák in the year he died in 1904

Dvořák had now finished with his chamber music and orchestral work. In his last years he only composed operas: 1898 the Teufelskäthe ( Čert a Káča ), 1900 Rusalka , which takes up the undine material , and 1902/03 Armida .

In April 1901, Emperor Franz Joseph I elevated him to the nobility as a knight of Dvořák and thus appointed him a member of the manor house in Vienna. In the same year he succeeded Antonín Bennewitz as director of the Prague Conservatory.

During the world premiere of his opera Armida , Dvořák had to leave the National Theater due to sudden malaise. He suffered from painful liver disease and cerebral sclerosis . He died of a stroke on May 1, 1904 with his family . Many thousands accompanied the funeral procession. Dvořák's grave is located in the Vyšehrad cemetery , where numerous important Czech personalities found their final resting place.


Antonín Dvořák is described as a modest, sociable family man and nature lover. He was also shaped by a deep religiosity.

Dvořák was perhaps the first prominent avowed railroad enthusiast in continental Europe and is in fact considered to be an expert on locomotives of his time in specialist circles. At the age of ten he saw the inauguration of the Imperial and Royal Northern State Railway by Nelahozeves , which certainly influenced his enthusiasm. Dvořák was also so interested in ships and other technology that, when he had no time himself, his future son-in-law Josef Suk told him which numbers and identification data were to be read on which trains and ships. There are also some anecdotes about the composer.


Statue of Antonín Dvořák in front of the Rudolfinum in Prague

In his work Dvořák combines influences from the classical and romantic periods with elements of folk music . Overall, his personal style is shaped more by reorientation than by linear development. While he was still oriented towards Mozart and Beethoven in his early years, from 1873 he was looking for his own national style. The two following Slavic creative periods (1876–1881 and 1886–1891) were no longer classic, but rather influenced by Czech folklore. In the works created in America he tried to capture the typical American color scheme and towards the end of his life turned increasingly to program music and operas.

His main works include his nine symphonies , among them the best known Symphony No. 9 From the New World , the Cello Concerto in B minor op.104 , oratorios with great suggestive power such as the Stabat Mater and the Requiem , numerous chamber music works, the sixteen Slavic Dances and the opera Rusalka . The first four symphonies were not counted until the 1970s. Accordingly, at that time, for example, the symphony From the New World had the number 5th symphony.

With Dvořák's multifaceted oeuvre, Czech music production finally found its unmistakable national identity. What Bedřich Smetana had introduced with the national themes and folkloric features of some of his operas and with his cycle Mein Vaterland led Dvořák to a climax. Undeterred by ideological currents, he went his own way and admired Wagner and Brahms in equal measure .

A love of homeland, a closeness to nature, deep religiousness, but equally intoxicating joie de vivre are expressed in Dvořák's work, which had to endure several failures until his Slavonic Dances appeared in print through Brahms' recommendation and the music world became aware of him. After initially only a few of his works had gained a foothold in the international music business, this changed, among other things, when István Kertész recorded all of his symphonies .

Stage works


  • Alfred , B. 16, Heroic Opera in 3 Acts, Libretto by Karl Theodor Körner (1870)
  • The King and the Koehler , op.14, comic opera in 3 acts, libretto by Bernhardt J. Lobeský (pseudonym of the Prague lawyer Bernhard Guldener) (1st version: 1871, 2nd version: 1874, revision of the 2nd version: 1887 )
  • Die Dickschädel op.17 , comic opera in one act, libretto by Josef Stolba (1874)
  • Der Bauer ein Schelm op.37 , comic opera in two acts, libretto by Josef Otakar Veselý (1877)
  • Wanda op.25, tragic opera in 5 acts, libretto by Václav Beneš Šumavský (1875)
  • Dimitrij op.64 , historical opera in 4 acts, libretto by Marie Červinková-Riegrová (1881/82/94)
  • The Jacobin op.84, opera in three acts, libretto by Marie Červinková-Riegrová (1887/88/97)
  • Die Teufelskäthe op.112, opera in 3 acts, libretto by Adolf Wenig (1898/99)
  • Rusalka op.114, Lyric fairy tale in 3 acts, libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil (1900)
  • Armida op.115 , opera in 4 acts, libretto by Jaroslav Vrchlický (1902/03)

Incidental music

  • Josef Kajetán Tyl op.62, overture and incidental music to the play of the same name by František Ferdinand Šamberks (1882)

Orchestral works


Symphonic poems

Other orchestral works

  • The harpist , Polka, lost or destroyed (1860)
  • Polka and gallop (for Komzák's band), lost or destroyed (1860/61)
  • Between act music (1867)
  • Three nocturnes, No. 2: May night , lost or destroyed (1872)
  • Romeo and Juliet , overture, lost or destroyed (1873)
  • Rhapsody in A minor, Op. 14 (1874; Dvořák has overwritten the original title with Symphonic Poem )
  • Notturno in B major for string orchestra op.40 (1875)
  • Serenade in E major for string orchestra op.22 (1875)
  • Symphonic Variations op.78 (1877)
  • Slavic Rhapsody in D major op.45 No. 1 (1878)
  • Slavic Rhapsody in G minor and A flat major, Op. 45 No. 2 and 3 (1878)
  • Slavonic Dances op.46 (1878)
  • Festmarsch op.54 (1879)
  • Czech Suite op.39 (WP 1879)
  • Vanda Overture op.25 (1879)
  • Prague Waltz (1879)
  • Polonaise in E flat major (1879)
  • Legends op.59 (1881)
  • Overture Mein Heim op.62 (1882)
  • Scherzo capriccioso op.66 (1883)
  • Husitská , Dramatic Overture op.67 (1883)
  • Slavonic Dances op.72 (1886)
  • In nature op.91, concert overture (1891)
  • Carnival op.92, concert overture (1891)
  • Othello op.93, concert overture (1892)
  • Suite in A major op.98b, The American (1895)

Works with solo instrument

Chamber music

Piano music

  • Forget- Me -Not Polka (1855/56)
  • Polka in E major (1860)
  • Two minuets op.28 (1876)
  • Dumka op. 35 (1876)
  • Tema con Variazioni op.36 (1876)
  • Scottish Dances op.41 (1877)
  • Slavonic Dances op.46, four hands (1878; also for orchestra)
  • Furiante op.42 (1878)
  • Silhouettes , Twelve Pieces for Piano, Op. 8 (1879)
  • Waltz op.54 (1880)
  • Eclogues op.56 (1880)
  • Album sheets (1880)
  • Six piano pieces op.52 (1880)
  • Mazurkas op.56 (1880)
  • Legends op.59, four hands (1881)
  • Impromptu in D minor (1883)
  • From the Bohemian Forest op.68, Character Pieces, four hands (1883)
  • Slavonic Dances op.72, four hands (1886; also for orchestra)
  • Two small pearls (1887)
  • Poetic mood pictures op.85 (1889)
  • Suite in A major op.98 The American (1894)
  • Humoresken op.101 (1894)
  • Two piano pieces ( Berceuse , Capriccio ) (1894)

Organ music

(published in Dvořák's thesis at the Prague Organ School in 1859)

  • Prelude in D major
  • Prelude in G major
  • Prelude in A minor
  • Prelude in B flat minor
  • Prelude in D major (sul tema impostato)
  • Fughetta
  • Fugue in D major
  • Fugue in G minor

Vocal works

  • Mass in B flat major, lost or destroyed (1857/59)
  • Cypresses , 18 songs based on poems by Gustav Pfleger-Moravský (1865)
  • Two songs for baritone, on texts by Adolf Heyduk (1865)
  • Five songs, based on words by Eliška Krásnohorská (1871)
  • The Orphan , ballad for voice and piano after Karel Jaromír Erben (1871)
  • Rosemary for voice and piano after Karel Jaromír Erben (1871)
  • Hymn The Heirs of the White Mountain for mixed choir and orchestra op.30, libretto by Vítězslav Hálek (1872)
  • Four songs based on Serbian folk poems, Op. 6 (1872)
  • Songs from the Königinhofer Manuscript op.7 (1872)
  • Sounds from Moravia op.20, duets for soprano and tenor (1875)
  • Stabat Mater op.58 (1876 / Instrumentation 1877)
  • Four songs for mixed choir op.29 (1876)
  • Sounds from Moravia op.29, duets for soprano and alto (1876)
  • Evening songs op.31, after Vítězslav Hálek (1876)
  • Three choir songs for male voices (1877)
  • Ave Maria for alto voice and organ (1877)
  • Sounds from Moravia op.32, duets for soprano and alto (1877)
  • Czech bouquet of songs for male choir op. 41 (1877)
  • Czech song for male choir (1877)
  • From the Slavonic bouquet of songs, Three songs for male choir op.43 (1878)
  • Hymn to the Most Holy Trinity for voice and organ (1878)
  • Three modern Greek poems for voice and piano op.50 (1878)
  • Five choirs for male voice based on texts from Lithuanian folk songs op.27 (1878)
  • The 149th Psalm for male choir and orchestra (1879)
  • Ave Maris Stella for voice and organ (1879)
  • O sanctissima for alto, baritone and organ (1879)
  • Gypsy Melodies op.55, 7 songs based on texts by Adolf Heyduk (1880)
  • In der Natur , 5 songs for mixed choir op.63, based on texts by Vítězslav Hálek (1882)
  • The Ghost Bride , cantata for solos, choir and orchestra op.69, libretto by Karel Jaromir Erben (1884)
  • Two songs on folk texts for voice and piano (1885)
  • Hymn of the Czech Country People for mixed choir and orchestra op.28, libretto by Karel Pippich (1885)
  • Saint Ludmilla , oratorio for solos, choir and orchestra op.71, libretto by Jaroslav Vrchlický (1885/86)
  • Im Volkston op.73 , 4 songs for voice and piano (1886)
  • Mass in D major op.86 for solos, mixed choir and organ (1887)
  • The 149th Psalm for mixed choir and orchestra (1887)
  • Four songs op.82 for voice and piano, based on texts by Otilie Malybrok-Stieler (1888)
  • Liebeslieder op.83 for voice and piano, text by Gustaf Pfleger-Moravský (1888)
  • Requiem op.89 for solos, mixed choir and orchestra (1890)
  • Mass in D major op.86, orchestral version (1892)
  • Te Deum op.103 for solos, mixed choir and orchestra (1892)
  • The American Flag op.102 for solos, mixed choir and orchestra (1892/93)
  • Biblical Songs op.99 for voice and piano (1894)
  • Biblical Songs op.99 for voice and orchestra (1895)
  • Festlied op. 113, in honor of the 70th birthday of Dr. Josef Tragy, for mixed choir and orchestra, text by Jaroslav Vrchlický (1900)
  • Saint Ludmilla , recitatives for scenic performances (1901)


  • Antonín Dvořák: Masterpieces ● 40 hours MP3 , DVD-ROM, Aretinus Gesellschaft für Musikarchivierung mbH, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-939107-14-X .



A bust of Ladislav Šaloun adorns Dvořák's grave in the Vyšehrad cemetery


Web links

Commons : Antonín Dvořák  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files



Individual evidence

  1. ^ Antonin Dvorak - Prague Minos Guide. Retrieved August 5, 2020 .
  2. Antonim Dvořák - Narodni muzeum. June 16, 2011, accessed August 5, 2020 .
  3. In his biography of Dvořák, Kurt Honolka assumes that he has completed his apprenticeship as a butcher.
  4. ^ John Clapham: Dvořák. New York 1979. ISBN 0-393-01204-2 , p 161.
  5. ^ Source, inter alia: Kurt Honolka, Dvořák . 12th edition, Hamburg 2004
  6. His grave is numbered 14–35.
  7. ^ Antonín Dvořák Encyclopædia Britannica
  8. a b c Jarmil Burghauser : Thematic catalog of the works of Antonín Dvořák , Státní nakladatelství krásné literatury, hudby a umění, 1960
  9. ^ Dvořák monument in his place of birth
  10. ^ Dvořák monument in Karlovy Vary