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Antonín Dvořák on MP3.COM

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Today’s Once Upon the Internet turns to music of the Czech composer Antonín Dvorák, and in particular to music deeply inspired by folk idioms.

In his native Bohemia, Dvorák was exposed to music at a young age at his father's inn, where local folk music was a part of every day life. Before the age of twelve, Dvorak was a proven musician, able to accompany local performers on his violin in various Bohemian dances and folk songs.

Much of Dvorák's most famous compositions, such as the Slavonic Dances, is music of a most unpretentious variety; yet this impression of musical innocence, perfectly charming and unsoiled by the the sometimes overbearing foibles of Romanticism, inevitably stirs something remarkable in listeners.

This is certainly true of the Serenade for Strings in E major, which is greatly cherished by music lovers, reminiscent of the dance-like and airy serenades by Brahms rather than the contrived and complex similar opus by Tchaikovsky – with which it is sometimes coupled on disc.

The serenade does invoke some of the dance motifs that Dvorák’s music is known for – and so does the Mazurek and Slavonic dance selection I included in the playlist, both played in a chamber setting. As a chamber composer, Dvorák is probably most remembered for his string quartets (14 of them and a great number of other works for string quartet and piano trio), but his 12th quartet has its own particular story, and it too has to do with his connection with folk music – this time of North America.

Dvorák spent three years in the United States (1892-1895) as the director of the newly-founded National Conservatory of Music of America in New York, where among other things, he instructed his students to emnbrace folk music. During a vacation in rural Iowa in the Summer of 1893, Dvorák embarked on the composition of his “American” string quartet – his first quartet in a dozen years. Progress on the work was so quick and satisfying that he scrawled out a sentence of gratitude to God at the end of his first draft! On the following New Year's Day the quartet received its Boston premiere, and it lost little time sewing itself into the fabric of the world's quartet repertoire.

There is more of America to this quartet than just its name and place of composition—Dvorák was fascinated by Native American and African American music, and throughout the "American" Quartet we can hear these new colors mixing in with his own usual quartet method. Many of the themes are pentatonically derived (the pentatonic scale being composed of five notes and containing no semitones); syncopation and snappy rhythm are found in abundance.

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Serenade for Strings in E Major, op. 22 [B 52]
Chamber orchestra of the Jeunesses Musicales of Macedonia
Borjan Canev, conucting

Mazurek for violin and piano, op. 49 [B 89]
Susanne Stanzeleit, violin
Julian Jacoson, piano

String Quartet no. 12, in F Major, op. 96 [B 178] “Américan”
Stamic Quartet

Slavonic Dance in E Minor (Allegretto grazioso), op. 72 [B 145], no. 2
Bian Lewis & Barbara Barber, violins
Michael McLean, piano

Downloaded from MP3.COM, Match 15, 2002

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June 20, 2014, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "This Day in Music History - 21 June 1954" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel .Read more June 20 on our blogs in English and in French.