Antonin Dvorak


Born: September 8th, 1841 in Nelahozeves, Czech Republic
Died: May 1st, 1904 (at age 63) in Prague, Czech Republic
Nationality: Czech
Fields: Created cantatas, operas and chamber music
Famous For: Incredible versatility in musical stylings
Awards: Winner of the Austrian State Stipendium Competition, Order of the Iron Crown, elected a member of the Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts and was the very first musician named to the Austrian House of Lords.

Antonin Dvorak was born on September 8th, 1841 in the small village of Nelahozeves, near Prague. He was the first Bohemian composer to get recognized and become famous across the globe. He combined the unique folk music of his native Bohemia and Moravia with his own musical style. Antonin Dvorak is considered by many to be the most versatile composers of that period.

He spent three years in New York City and his contribution to the discovery of genuine American music is a significant part of his musical career. Dvorak’s new American style influenced the works of later American composers, including Horatio Parker and John Knowles Paine. He formed a close friendship with other famous composers such as Johannes Brahms and Pyotr Ilych Tchaicovsky. He was extremely popular in the United Kingdom after the 1880 premiere of his cantata entitled “Stabat Mater.” In his later life, he focused on writing operas.

Early Years

Antonin was the first of fourteen children born to Anna and Frantisek Dvorak. He grew up appreciating his Bohemian heritage which had a strong impact on his music throughout the years. While still a young boy, he took piano, violin, organ and music theory lessons from Anton Liehmann, his German language teacher. His innate passion for music led Dvorak to become a respected violist from the early age of sixteen. Dvorak would accompany several orchestras and play at folk dances in his native region. Various traditional Bohemian and Moravian dances such as mazurka, odzemek, polonaise and furiant greatly influenced his musical compositions, especially “String Quartet in E Flat Major,” the famous opera “Dimitrij” and “Symphony in D Major.”

He enrolled in Prague’s Organ School in 1857 and graduated in 1859, while working as a full-time musician. In 1862, he started playing viola with the orchestra of Karel Komzak I, a renowned composer, organist and conductor, whose level of professionalism earned them a place in the Prague Provisional Theatre orchestra. In order to support himself financially, he played organ in St. Adalbert’s Church in Prague and he gave piano lessons. He married Anna Cermakova, with whom he had nine children.

Contribution to Music

His most significant and widely appreciated works include nine symphonies, five symphonic poems with sequential opus numbers, three concerti accompanied by orchestra, over forty chamber music works as well as several operas and song cycles. His most popular symphony by far is “New World Symphony,” which represents the quintessence of Romantic music. His nationalist feelings lie at the center of his famous operas, such as “Rusalka,” “Dimitrij” and “Vanda”.

Antonin Dvorak also played an important part in the development of the real American musical style, being inspired by the authentic melodies of African and Native Americans. From 1892 until 1895 he was appointed director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. At the same time he continued to compose music. His 1893 “American String Quartet,” which is inspired by American folk music, is regarded to this day as one of the most influential pieces in the chamber music repertoire. From 1901 until his death he was the director of the Prague Conservatory.

Antonin Dvorak passed away from a stroke at the age of 62, on May 1st, 1904. His body was cremated and his ashes were placed beneath a bust sculpted by Ladislav Saloun. His final resting place is that of many famous composers, the Vysehrad cemetery. He was survived by his wife and his six children.