|Born||Sep. 8, 1841|
|Died||May 1, 1904|
Born on September 8, 1841, composer, Antonin Dvorak came from humble beginnings. His father was a butcher and kept an inn in a small Bohemian village in what is now the Czech Republic. He had seven brothers and sisters, and it would have been easy for his busy parents to miss his natural musical talent, but they did not.
Early Musical Talents
Dvorak’s father played the zither as an amusement, and he realized that the young Antonin possessed unusual talent. When the boy showed an interest in music, his parents encouraged it and provided for private music lessons from the age of six. During his childhood, Dvorak played in church and local musical groups. His parents made sure that he had a well rounded musical and scholastic education.
As a a teenager, Dvorak attended the Prague Organ School. He graduated an accomplished vocalist, pianist, violist and violinist with a firm grounding in music theory and performance. He became a member of the Bohemian Theater Orchestra conducted by Bedrich Smetana. However, this did not pay as well as he wished so he quit after several years in order to focus on teaching and composing.
In the course of his career as a music teacher, Dvorak fell in love with a student, Anna Cermakova. In 1873, he married her, and this proved to be a happy match which produced nine children. During the early years of his marriage, Dvorak continued teaching and composing, and in 1875, he wrote the second of his string quintets.
This work was performed with very positive responses which caught the attention of Johannes Brahms, the famous German composer. Brahms made Dvorak’s acquaintance and the two became close friends. Brahms introduced Dvorak to a Viennese music publisher who commissioned Dvorak’s original Slavonic Dances. Published in 1878, this work met with instant success.
Dvorak’s Greatest Works
Dvorak greatly admired contemporaries Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner, and their work influenced his own a great deal. Additionally, the two composers helped promote Dvorak’s work to some of the most important people in Europe, and so it was performed broadly and was very well received.
In fact, Brahms was so supportive of Dvorak’s work that his praise of that work in a letter wound up bringing Dvorak a great deal of fame and success. During the 1880s, Dvorak’s Sixth Symphony, Stabat Mater and Slavonic Dances were successfully performed in England. Subsequently, Dvorak was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Cambridge University.
Recognition and Invitations
In 1890, Dvorak toured Russia with great success and was made a professor at the Prague Conservatory. This led to an 1892 invitation to become the director of New York City’s National Conservatory of Music. Dvorak held this position for three years, from 1892 to 1895. During this time, he continued his interest in cross-cultural studies and teaching music composition.
Dvorak’s cross-cultural studies led him to study the music of African Americans and Native Americans. He forged very positive bonds with these peoples, making many friends and exchanging information. The originality of Native American music and the deep spirituality of African American music inspired Dvorak.
It was during this time that Dvorak wrote the very famous New World Symphony. This majestic work had its premier performance at Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic in December of 1893. It was met with a great deal of enthusiasm and continues to be a beloved piece of music today.
Dvorak Returns to Prague
Overall, things went extraordinarily well for Dvorak in America. During this time he wrote a string quartet, opus in F major, also known as the American, and his very well-known and fantastic composition, the Cello Concerto. Dvorak was well-off financially and enjoyed a great deal of success and high regard; nonetheless, he missed his homeland, his wife, and his children and he longed to return to Prague.
In 1901, Dvorak did return to Prague and took up the position of director at the Prague Conservatory. He maintained this position until his death from heart failure. The composer was ill for a little over a month and succumbed on May 1, 1904. He was buried in the Prague cemetery on May 5, 1904.
A bust of his head marks his grave. Dvorak enjoyed a rewarding, fulfilling and successful life and is still tremendously admired as one of the greatest composers and musical talents of all time.