Antonín Dvořák with friends and family


Maestro Dvořák among his family

Antonín Dvořák’s breakthrough came in 1878, when his Moravian duets were released by Berlin-based music publisher Fritz Simrock on a recommendation from Johannes Brahms. Their success was followed by the premiere of Dvořák’s famous Slavic dances.

Brahms, a German living in Vienna, eventually became a close friend of Dvořák and will continue to support the talented Czech composer. In Vienna, he repeatedly insisted that an annual allowance for talented artists be paid to Dvořák. Brahms became a mentor and advisor to the Czech composer, serving as an example for him.

Antonin Dvořák |  Photo: Atelier Jan Langhans

The two men were not only bound by mutual friendship, but also by respect for each other. Brahms once said that he would be happy if the main thing on his mind was just a quick flash of thought for Dvořák. The Czech composer certainly had plenty of ideas. In 1889, he wrote to publisher Simrock that his mind was “overflowing with ideas.” At that time, he was thinking of his famous 8th symphony. Dvořák’s son-in-law, Josef Suk, personally witnessed this thought process.

“This constant creative bustle! I see the hand of the master, which constantly, sometimes even during a pause in conversation, is playing relentlessly on his coat like on a piano. He seemed to be thinking only of music.” Suk wrote.

Dvořák’s son Otakar also remembered his father’s zeal in composing, witnessing his father writing the opera Rusalka.

“We found out that the opera was finished over lunch. We sat down at the table and began to eat. It was quiet for a while when suddenly the father said, “He’s dead. Everyone was in shock and all of us, including the mother, started asking the father who had died. “The prince of course,” said the father, “she gave him a kiss and he, the poor boy, must die after that”. “

There are several accounts that describe the special nature of Dvořák. When the Czech poet Jaroslav Vrchlický wrote to Dvořák that he is a big child, he was referring to the zeal and direct, almost innocent nature of the composer.

Nonetheless, there were also occasions when Dvořák had to ensure that his behavior followed strict protocol. When his works rose to fame in England, Dvořák began to write compositions for local audiences, often traveling to Britain to perform them himself. Guests in attendance also included members of the royal family, and Dvořák, along with his wife, was invited to the royal box during the main intermission at one of these events. After a formal greeting, Dvořák’s wife was taken aside by one of the royal officials who began to ask her about her husband’s hobbies. The Queen was apparently interested in this herself. Embarrassed, the wife of Czech composer Anna, said he had a great passion for breeding pigeons. And so on the return of the Czech couple, they received a royal package containing two pairs of English pouters and four pairs of Jacobin pigeons. Dvořák would have been so happy that he jokingly said to his wife: “Thank goodness you didn’t tell them I like locomotives.”

Dvořák is at home

.Villa Rusalka in Vysoká |  Photo: Radio Prague Internationale

Much has been written about how Anotnín Dvořák would spend time at his favorite Rusalka house in Vysoká u Příbrami, resting and composing near the castle of his stepfather, Count Václav Kounic. However, Dvořák spent most of his life in the New Town of Prague and his last decade in a house on Žitná Street. Several prominent personalities of the time visited him here. Among them were of course Johannes Brahms, but also LeoÅ¡ Janáček or the famous Russian composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky. Even a short note survives in Tchaikovsky’s diary about such a visit in February 1888:

“Lunch at Dvořák’s. His wife is a simple, kind woman who is also an excellent housekeeper.

As for LeoÅ¡ Janáček, he even lived in Dvořák’s apartment for a while – in the summer of 1883 – when Dvořák’s family was on vacation in Vysoká and loaned their apartment to the young Czech composer. Another regular visitor to Žitná was Berlin music publisher Fritz Simrock, who published most of the Czech composer’s works. Dvořák was also regularly visited by librettist Marie ÄŒervinková Riegrová, one of the most educated women in Prague society at the time. She wrote libretto for Dvořák’s opera Dimitry and Jacobin. She noted in her diary that she loved Dvořák.

“He’s incredibly kind and natural… he’s not arrogant. All the fame in the world had no influence on him. He remained the same person he was before.

Another visitor was the poet Julius Zeyer and in the same house as Dvořák lived the famous sculptor Josef MaÅ™atka, who would create the bust of the composer in the foyer of the National Theater. Josef Hlávka, a successful architect who was known as a philanthropist among Czech artists, also returned from time to time. “What Dvořák says is sacred to me”, he wrote. Indeed, it seems that this is the reason for the comings and goings of many visitors. Dvořák’s pupil VítÄ›zslav Novák summed it up as follows:

“He greeted Beethoven, admired Wagner and Berlioz, respected Brahms a lot and loved Schubert. The master knew all the beautiful and original compositions ever created in music.

Antonin Dvořák at the cinema

'Kolja' |  Photo: Czech TV

Many of Antonin Dvořák’s compositions can be heard in the Oscar-winning film Kolja, by ZdenÄ›k and Jan SvÄ›rák Kolja. This includes String Quartet No.12 (2nd movement), Chansons bibliques (No.4) and When My Old Mother from Slavic Dances (No.7 opus 72). In their previous film The Elementary School, the SvÄ›rák used Dvořák’s famous Symphony No. 9 “New World”.

Dvořák’s Humoresky also appeared in the film The Peacemaker, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. Renowned Swedish director Ingmar Bergman has chosen to use Dvořák’s compositions in his Oscar-winning film Fanny and Alexander.

In the movie Queen Victoria with Emily Blunt we can hear the Serenade in E major, in the fantasy fairy tale Star Dust with Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro Slavic dances are heard.


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