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Music History

Who Was Dvořák? A Brief Introduction

June 14, 2024

Antonín Dvořák was a Bohemian (now Czech Republic) composer who was heavily influenced by the folk music of his homeland during the Romantic Era. He was appointed Artistic Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York in 1892, a position that he held for 3 years, and he spent the summer of 1893 in Spillville, Iowa. During his time in the United States, he was inspired by American folk songs and local music like African American spirituals. 

The Romantic Era

Romanticism in music refers to a stylistic period that began in the early 19th century and continued into the early years of the 20th, though there is debate about the exact time frame.

Composers during this period moved beyond strict Classical forms that were a feature of 18th-century music. They expanded the scope of their works to include more complex harmonies, varied instrumentation, larger orchestras, greater virtuosity demanded of musicians, heightened emotional expression, and an increased interest in national identity and folk-music traditions from various cultures. Among composers of his day, Dvořák was one of the greatest proponents of integrating stylistic elements from traditional Czech music.

Romantic music also mirrored some of the trends associated with Romanticism in literature and the visual arts. This included an emphasis on nature, mysticism, and the experience of the individual.

Notable Works



Dvořák was living in the Bohemian community of Spillville, Iowa when he composed and premiered the American” Quartet. Although there are no specific American musical references in the work, it strives to capture the essence of the American spirit and has an overriding American tone to the piece. This is achieved by the simplicity of the work, as well as using the pentatonic scale, which is often found in American folk music.

Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104 (1894)

One of the standards of the cello repertoire, the second movement of this concerto quotes a theme from Dvořák’s song Lasst mich allein, a favorite of his first love and sister-in-law, Josefina. At the time of composing, she was quite ill and died shortly thereafter, so it stands as a tribute to her memory.

Slavonic Dances for Piano, Op. 46 and Op. 72 ( 1878 and 1886)

Dvořák composed a series of eight dances due to the rise in popularity of Eastern European folk music. After the great success of the first set, he composed a second set of dances that were inspired by a broad range of dances including polkas, kolos, sousedsky, and dumky.