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Dvorak and His World

Dvorak and His World

EDITED BY Michael Beckerman
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Dvorak and His World
    Book Description:

    Antonin Dvorák made his famous trip to the United States one hundred years ago, but despite an enormous amount of attention from scholars and critics since that time, he remains an elusive figure. Comprising both interpretive essays and a selection of fascinating documents that bear on Dvorák's career and music, this volume addresses fundamental questions about the composer while presenting an argument for a radical reappraisal.

    The essays, which make up the first part of the book, begin with Leon Botstein's inquiry into the reception of Dvorák's work in German-speaking Europe, in England, and in America. Commenting on the relationship between Dvorák and Brahms, David Beveridge offers the first detailed portrait of perhaps the most interesting artistic friendship of the era. Joseph Horowitz explores the context in which the "New World" Symphony was premiered a century ago, offering an absorbing account of New York musical life at that time. In discussing Dvorák as a composer of operas, Jan Smaczny provides an unexpected slant on the widely held view of him as a "nationalist" composer. Michael Beckerman further investigates this view of Dvorák by raising the question of the role nationalism played in music of the nineteenth century.

    The second part of this volume presents Dvorák's correspondence and reminiscences as well as unpublished reviews and criticism from the Czech press. It includes a series of documents from the composer's American years, a translation of the review ofRusalka's premiere with the photographs that accompanied the article, and Janácek's analyses of the symphonic poems. Many of these documents are published in English for the first time.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3169-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
    Michael Beckerman
  4. Introduction: Looking for Dvoŕák in December 1992
    (pp. 3-8)

    The road to Vysoká leads upward from the town of Přibram, around winding roads and through fields and forests. It is the beginning of December. In the valley below it is raining, and we can see deep green winter wheat, which imparts a false sense of spring to the scene. Up on higher ground (Vysoká itself means “high place”) it is snowing. Dvorak’s summer villa, now called “Rusalka,” has been turned into a wonderland; clean white snow clings to all the branches, and a trackless plain stretches before us along the outbuildings to the main house. We are three: Marketa...


    • Reversing the Critical Tradition: Innovation, Modernity, and Ideology in the Work and Career of Antonin Dvořák
      (pp. 11-55)

      These reflections by two of Germany’s most respected critics were written during a pivotal period in twentieth-century musical life. By the mid-1920s, the modern, in terms of music, had taken its essential shape. The post—World War I alternatives to the common, lateromantic language of expression had appeared before the public. A spirit of change pervaded musical life. “Progressive” composers such as Schoenberg and Busoni had undertaken “a radical dismantling of the established syntax of Western music.”³ And a neoclassic and neoromantic reaction to these new developments was audible.

      In the years between the two World Wars the audience for...

    • Dvořák and Brahms: A Chronicle, an Interpretation
      (pp. 56-91)

      One of the most striking felicities in Antoni’n Dvořák’s life was his long personal friendship with a man who was, after the death of Wagner in 1883, widely considered to be the greatest living composer in the Western world—Johannes Brahms. From late in 1877 until Brahms’s death in 1897, Dvořák maintained a relationship with the German master that was important to both of them, even though they never lived in the same city.

      One might expect this relationship to have loomed large in music historiography, especially because, for many influential musicians in Germany, the Austrian Empire, and the English-speaking...

    • Dvořák and the New World: A Concentrated Moment
      (pp. 92-103)

      Though little remembered today, even by musicians, Dvořák’s New York was a world music capital. A century ago, the New York Philharmonic enjoyed unprecedented artistic and financial prosperity. The Metropolitan Opera had entered its “Golden Age.” New York was inundated with phenomenal vocalists and instrumentalists. Its orchestras and opera houses eagerly presented important premieres. As never since, music was central to the city’s intellectual culture at large. Concert-giving and operagoing were, more than rites of habit, a necessary response to aesthetic urges and emotional needs.

      Three individuals—Anton Seidl, Jeanette Thurber, and Henry Edward Krehbiel—collectively suggest the reasons that...

    • Dvořák: The Operas
      (pp. 104-133)

      In an interview given two months before his death, Dvořák expressed the view that his “main inclination was towards dramatic composition.”¹ He also stated that he was turning down requests for chamber works from his publisher, Simrock, and that he had demonstrated years before that his main interest was in opera rather than in symphonic music. This was not the maverick boast of a composer secure in his reputation wanting to surprise the musical public; Dvofak spoke in such terms only slightly more than three weeks before the premiere of his eleventh opera,Armida.² He had been engaged in operatic...

    • The Master’s Little Joke: Antonín Dvořák and the Mask of Nation
      (pp. 134-154)

      Dvořák’s secretary in the United States was an American-born Czech violinist named J. J. Kovařík. While Otakar Šourek was compiling his groundbreaking four-volume Dvořák biography, in the late 1920s he began to write to Kovařík for information about the composer’s American years. Their correspondence, still largely unpublished, is quite a beautiful one, with Šourek treating Kovařík somewhat like a spy master treats a treasured informer.¹ One of the most tantalizing passages in this correspondence is the following description of the manner in which Dvořák’s Symphony in E minor got its nickname:

      [On the following day] Seidl told the Master that...


    • Reviews and Criticism from Dvořák’s American Years: Articles by Henry Krehbiel, James Huneker, H. L. Mencken, and James Creelman
      (pp. 157-191)

      During Dvořák’s time in the United States, between 1892 and 1895, hundreds of articles about him, large and small, appeared in American newspapers and periodicals. The following represents a tiny but significant selection from these. We begin with Henry Krehbiel’s article announcing Dvořák’s first public appearance in front of an American orchestra. The next group of pieces, by James Huneker and Krehbiel, of fers some insight into the positions staked out by various critics in the ongoing debate about the future of American music—Krehbiel earnest and supportive, Huneker ironic and skeptical. The Krehbiel articles are distinctive for their detail...

    • Letters from Dvořák’s American Period: A Selection of Unpublished Correspondence Received by Dvořák in the United States
      (pp. 192-210)

      The following letters were all received by Dvořák during his years in the United States and, unless otherwise indicated, have never before appeared in print. They range from professional greetings and salutations to the cries of amateur instrumentalists from the musical wilderness. Here are letters from the critic Henry Krehbiel, which include African-American songs from Kentucky, and a letter from an unknown student, Michael Banner, which begins in a desultory manner and evolves into a passionate tribute. These letters reveal that the composer served as a kind of magnet for a wide range of individuals, particularly those with a serious...

    • Antonín Dvořák: A Biographical Sketch
      (pp. 211-229)

      In 1992 Clipeus Press in Leiden published a commemorative volume containing the earliest biographical sketch of Dvořák, by Hermann Krigar. Containing extensive commentary by the noted Dvořák scholar Jarmil Burghauser, this book was published in a special limited edition of only 110 copies. After reading the material I thought it appropriate to offer the material to a larger audience, and I obtained permission from Dr. Burghauser to reprint it here. We find the opening remarks on national characteristics to be particularly interesting: they tie in very neatly with certain points made in the essays in Part I, and the critical...

    • Dvořák in the Czech Press: Unpublished Reviews and Criticism
      (pp. 230-261)

      Very little of the writing about Dvořák in the Czech press has appeared outside of Czechoslovakia. There are a variety of reasons for this, the most obvious being problems with accessibility and comprehension. In the past several decades it was not always easy to find nineteenth-century Czech newspapers, and even if one could, they seemed archaic, opaque, and even ephemeral. The change, however, that might revive interest in such works has nothing to do with newly opened archives but rather with a new curiosity about the nooks and crannies of history. Twenty years ago, much late nineteenth-century writing might have...

    • A Discussion of Two Tone Poems Based on Texts by Karel Jaromir Erben: The Wood Dove and The Golden Spinning Wheel
      (pp. 262-276)

      It is well known that Leoš Janáček was one of Dvořák’s great champions. He performed many of the older composer’s works in Brno and even gave several premieres. Between 1897 and 1898 Janáèek published discussions of Dvořák’s four symphonic poems based on the poetry of Erben. We include two of these:The Wood Dove (Holoubek)andThe Golden Spinning Wheel (Zlatý kolovral). They are particularly interesting for a number of reasons. First, they are further documentation of Janáček’s peculiar and powerful literary gifts; he manages to combine a reading of the poem with a sophisticated yet idiosyncratic analysis of the...

  7. Index of Names and Compositions
    (pp. 277-282)
  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 283-284)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-285)