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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Quartets by Dvořák

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This week’s Tuesday Blog is a variation on our PTB Classic series, with a return to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s on-line library of chamber performances and three works for string quartet by Anonin Dvořák.

A viola player himself, Dvořák felt a natural affinity to writing for strings. His chamber work is heavily inspired by folk culture (Czech, and later American), while also maintaining his Czech roots. Over a period of thirty years, Dvořák composed over forty chamber music works. Like Schubert, Dvořák turned to the string quartet early in his career; both had one sound practical reason for choosing this medium at the start of their careers: it was relatively easy to get quartet music played.

The two quartets shared here are mature works; the tenth, subtitlesd “Slavonic”, owes its nickname to the dedicatee. Indeed Jean Becker, the leader of the Florentine Quartet, had asked specifically for a "Slavonic Quartet" in the wake of Dvořák's "Slavonic Dances" and "Slavonic Rhapsodies").

The String Quartet No. 14 was the last string quartet completed by Dvořák, finished his Fourteenth Quartet in 1895, when he had returned to Bohemia after his visit to America. This Quartet marked an important point in Dvořák's development because he would devote himself almost exclusively to writing explicit program music, namely symphonic poems and operas, afterwards.

Dvořák's String Quartet movements now bearing the title Cypresses (Czech: Cypřiše) are String Quartet versions of 12 of his 18 love songs, B11, of 1865 -also titled Cypresses. The 12 pieces he selected for arrangement from B. 11 are Nos. 2–4, 6–9, 12, 14, and 16–18; the original songs are for solo voice and piano, and are settings of poems by Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky from the collection "Cypresses" (hence the title).

In his ongoing survey of string quartets, Merl’s blog has discussed the three works we are sharing today. Here are the pertinent links:

String Quartet No. 10, Op. 51 -

String Quartet No. 14, Op. 105 -

Cypresses, B.152 -

Happy listening!

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No. 10 in E♭ major, Op. 51 [B. 92] (Slavonic)
Borromeo String Quartet

Cypresses, B.152 (arr. from Cypresses song cycle, B. 11)
Musicians from Marlboro

String Quartet No. 14 in A♭ major, Op. 105 [B. 193]
Borromeo String Quartet

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