The Understanding Music group, in our chronological journey through classical music, has reached Victorian times, where there is a wealth of European composers to get to know.
In August we had a look at Antonin Dvorak’s life and music. His father was a butcher and innkeeper, and Antonin was expected to follow in his Dad’s footsteps. Luckily, Dad realised that his son had musical talent, and he made sure that the lad received proper training. In 1866 Antonin (shall we call him Tony?), aged 25, got a job as a viola player in the Bohemian Theatre Orchestra.
Nine years later, a certain Mr. Brahms was on the judging panel for a composition competition and Dvorak won. Two years after that, he won it again, and Johannes Brahms took notice of him. The two became good friends, and Brahms, who was 8 years older than Dvorak, made sure that his music got published.
The trendy thing at the time, started by the Russian composer Glinka in an attempt to get Russian music onto the Western European music scene, was to write music based on the local folk music. Smetana picked up this idea, and began to write distinctively Czech music, and Dvorak followed his example.
Click on the link below to hear Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance no.1. It lasts for 4 minutes and 43 seconds, but you can close it at any time to return to this page.
When he was 50, he was invited become Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York.
He took his ideas on folk music with him and began to search for American folk music. His very popular “New World” symphony contains many references to both Native American and Afro-American music.
We were fascinated to learn about this innovative and tuneful composer and we listened with fresh ears to several of his pieces on cd and on YouTube. Next time you hear his music played on Classic FM or radio 3, listen for the Slavic rhythms and tunes.