Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Antonín Dvořák was born in Bohemia (modern Czech Republic) to a poor innkeeper and his wife. Although his parents were proud of his talent, they discouraged his choice of career, thinking he would be a starving musician all his life. During his study of music in Prague, Dvořák didn’t even have access to a piano. Mostly self-taught in composition, he reflected that “I study with the birds, flowers, God, and myself.” After performing in a concert that Wagner conducted, Dvořák’s music reflected the older composer’s influence. He also became good friends with Johannes Brahms, who became an active supporter and advocate for his music.

After his early struggles, Dvořák became a world-famous composer and cosmopolitan musician, traveling to Germany, Austria, Russia, England, and the United States. He spent three years living in New York City, where he was director of the National Conservatory. During this time, he became acquainted with Negro spirituals through some of the students and later heard some Native American music while vacationing in Iowa. He felt that American music would be developed from native musical materials such as these. He wrote two of his best known pieces as a result: the Symphony No. 9, “From The New World” and the String Quartet No. 12, “American”. He also wrote his famous cello concerto during this time. His own music had a strong National character through his use of Czech melodies and folk songs, such as in the Slavonic Dances for orchestra and the opera Rusalka.

Dvořák’s strong faith and Christian upbringing are reflected in his love of nature and the large amount of sacred music that he composed. His Stabat Mater is often considered my many musicians to be his masterwork. His tremendous success never changed him as a person. He remained humble in character and thankful to God for his talents and gifts. He was also a devoted husband and father to nine children (three of whom died as infants.) When asked about his composing ability, Dvořák said that:

“I simply do what God tells me to do.”

Suggested Listening:

Suggested Reading:

Michael Beckerman. New Worlds Of Dvořák: Searching In America For The Composer’s Inner Life.