Antonin Dvorak’s dad was a butcher, but he recognized his son’s musical talent and only made him assist him part-time. He played both violin and viola, and during the 1860s, while Americans were entering a Civil War, he joined Smetana’s Bohemian Theatre Orchestra but later quit to focus on composing and teaching.
Poor Dvorak fell in love with one of his students, but it wasn’t meant to be. She married someone else. He was heartbroken, of course. So heartbroken that he married her sister! Antonin and Anna eventually had nine children together. I wonder how her sister felt about the marriage and how his wife felt about his love for her sister! (above, Anna is on the left and Josefina on the right) Dvorak wrote a series of love songs for Josefina, now known as The Cypresses. You can listen to one of them here.
Dvorak’s music was unique, but it was influenced by his love of his homeland, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic). Its folk songs combined with the influences of Wagner and Brahms made for a special blend of Eastern European liveliness and rich, dramatic music. For a child’s level biography of his life, check out this Classics for Kids episode, from Cincinnati Public Radio.
During the 1880s, his music was performed in England, where it was a rousing success, especially his Slavonic Dances, the Stabat Mater,* and the Sixth Symphony. He even received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge! For more information on his Slavonic Dances, check out this Classics for Kids episode devoted solely to them.
In 1892, he was invited to America to become Director of the National Conservatory in New York, where he remained for three years. What a power-packed three years! He studied the music of Native Americans and African Americans, incorporating them into his most famous work to date, The New World Symphony, Symphony No. 9 in e minor. It premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1893, and he was a superstar. The link above is to the New York Philharmonic. It’s a nice recording of Symphony No. 9. I hope you’ll listen to it over and over until it sinks into your soul. As you do, keep in mind that he is expressing both his love for his native homeland of Czechoslavakia and American roots music, too! It’s quite a blend and will quickly become an ear worm inside your head as you go about your days. A pleasant ear worm. A lovely, retrospective, historical, nationalistic ear worm.
Even though he was such a success in America, his heart was still in Czechoslavakia with his wife and nine children. Plus, he missed his homeland. He became director of the Prague Conservatory in 1901 and lived happily with his family until his death in 1904.
*For more on what the Stabat Mater was, click here.
To learn more about Charlotte Mason’s living educational principles and how to apply them to music study, I hope you will consider purchasing my book, A Touch of the Infinite.