The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About . Donate .

Antonin Dvoràk.

One of the great figures of modern music was taken from the world of activity, May 1st, when Antonin Dvoràk, the Bohemian composer, died at Prague. The Etude, for May, department of Study Club Work, contained a biographical sketch of the composer and also of his work as a student, so that we shall not add a long biographical notice in this issue. The cause of Dvoràk’s death is given as apoplexy.

His career shows what hard work, a sturdy constitution, and thorough study of the classics can do for a musician, supplying the place of teachers. Poverty did not daunt him, neither did early failures discourage or sour him.

dvorak.jpgHe was born at Mühlhausen, Bohemia, September 8, 1841, and was intended to follow his father’s trade as a butcher. But his musical inclinations were not to be repressed and in course of time he was able to study music and to support himself most meagerly by professional work. He was thrown into close contact with the national literary and musical movement in which Smetana was a leading figure, and became imbued with these ideas, although he was never ready wholly to abandon the classic forms. After various attempts in composition, which were only partially successful the government granted him a small yearly stipend in 1875. The following year he gave himself altogether to composition, and to this period belongs his great oratorio, “Stabat Mater.” His “Slavonic Dances,” which came out in 1877 and

helped to carry his fame all over the musical world. Other works followed, and a visit to England to conduct his “Stabat Mater” resulted in a commission to compose a work for the Birmingham Festival of 1885, which resulted in “The Spectre’s Bride.” The next year he wrote “St. Ludmilla” for the Leeds Festival. The Austrian government decorated him in 1889, in 1890 the University of Cambridge conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Music, while the University of Prague made him a Doctor of Philosophy. In 1892 he was offered a position with the National Conservatory of Music at a salary of $15,000 a year, and held the position for three years, during which several American composers, among whom may be mentioned Harry Howe Shelley, Camille W. Zeckwer, Harvey Worthington Loomis, and H. T. Burleigh were his pupils.

It was during his stay in New York City that he became interested in the possibility of founding an American style of music. His idea was that, since we have not a folk song, such as other nations have, upon which to base national music, the composer should turn to the melodies of the negro race and the chants of the Indian, for material. His most notable composition along these lines was the E minor symphony “From the New World,” which was first performed by the New York Philharmonic Society, under Anton Seidl’s direction, December 15, 1893.

We are indebted to Mr. Camille W. Zeckwer, of Philadelphia, for the following personal recollections of his teacher:—

It was evident that Dvoràk did not expect to make a permanent home in the United States, since he left some of his children in Bohemia. Both he and his wife were unhappy here, as the following incident will show:—

One time during a lesson I was instrumentating a march of Schubert’s and Dvoràk several times left the room. Once he came back in tears and made the remark that fifteen years before, when he was starving, he was happier than he was then, earning $15,000 a year.

The character of the music of his “Stabat Mater” shows that Dvoràk wrote for a service with which he was in thorough sympathy. He was a very good Catholic. I asked him on many occasions to make a visit to Philadelphia. He made several attempts, and finally went so far as to pack his suit case. When we had almost reached the ferry he turned around and said “No, I will not go.” I found out afterward, through Richard Burmeister, that the reason Dvoràk did not come was because he was afraid he could not get to 6 o’clock mass.

Dvoràk had all the qualities of an earnest, thorough student. He was largely self-educated. He received all his knowledge from scores, not from books at all. To show his respect and adherence to classic models I recall that when I was writing a trio with him he made me write, to the first movement, eight developments, modeled exactly as the trio of Beethoven in C minor.

He had a tender appreciation of the trial a housewife is sometimes put to when an unexpected visitor comes to dine. One day he invited me to lunch at his home on East Seventeenth Street, not far from the conservatory. After the lesson I walked over with him and when we got near his home, he got suddenly very quiet, put his arm around me, and asked me what time my train went. I told him 2 o’clock. It was then fifteen minutes before 2. He turned around and said: “You had better hurry, and make it then.”

Although he was strongly national in his ideas and sympathies, he was not narrow. He spoke English very well, and his instruction did not suffer from inability to express himself clearly in the English language. Although his instinct and his greatest work was orchestral rather than pianistic, he played the piano very well. He considered Chopin the greatest writer for the piano who had ever lived or ever will live. He was very fond of Bach, more so even than of Wagner. The former’s modulations he considered superior to those of the latter.

He was not in sympathy with the methods of American conservatories so far as he was acquainted with them. They were all money-making schemes. New York is a place everyone should see, but not a place to live. In regard to American pupils, he once expressed himself in their favor as very talented. In his opinion, in a hundred years America will be the musical center of the world.

<< Recital Programs.     Home Notes. >>

Monthly Archives

The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music