“Arguably the most versatile… composer of his time.”
– Musicologist Richard Taruskin
Czech composer Antonín Leopold Dvořák (1841 – 1904) is perhaps best known for incorporating traditional melodies and rhythms from Bohemia and Moravia into his symphonies, operas, and chamber works. His style was described by British musicologist Stanley Sadie as, “the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them.”
A young Dvořák in 1868, age 26
Dvořák was also remarkably adept though at blending genres from within the more established musical styles of both his time and his predecessors – seamlessly incorporating elements of Romanticism with the symphonic and chamber music traditions of the Classical period. Equally comfortable drawing from Wagner to Schubert to Bach, and of course a wide range of traditional Slavic music, American musicologist Richard Taruskin describes him as, “arguably the most versatile… composer of his time.”
His ability to borrow artfully and rearrange music as his own did not end at other composers, styles, and genres though – he also borrowed from his own previous works. Many composers would rework melodies and other fragments from their own previous scores in order to create either a different arrangement or a whole new piece. Dvořák does just that to great effect in his Romance in F minor, which is based on a motif from his own String Quartet No. 5 in F minor. This quartet was composed in 1873 before he had achieved any real acclaim, and was neither performed nor published during his lifetime. Though in 1875, Dvořák would be awarded the Austrian State Prize for Composition to support talented composers in need in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The esteemed jury included Johannes Brahms, who was said to be “visibly overcome by the mastery and talent” of Dvořák.” This would start a steady stream of successes that led to much international acclaim by the late 19th century.
Folk musicians from Kunčice, Moravia (1890s)
The Romance in F minor was written at the request of Josef Markus, leader of the Provisional Theatre Orchestra in Prague. The work was originally written for violin and small orchestra, and premiered in 1877, and arrangements like the one you’re about to hear for violin and piano popped up soon thereafter. .
Heifetz 2020 student Clara Kim says she gravitates to the work of Dvořák, and the Romance in F minor in particular for its trademark expressiveness along with its hearty romanticism. She is joined by pianist Beilin Han for a stunning remote collaboration that truly captures the essence of this remarkable piece. Enjoy!