“For other nations, utopia is a blessed past never to be recovered; for Americans it is just beyond the horizon.” - Henry A. Kissinger
Antonín Leopold Dvořák (date of birth: 8 September 1841, Nelahozeves, Bohemia, Austria. [now Czech Republic]; date of Death: 1 May 1904, Prague, Czech Republic) was the son of a butcher, but he did not follow his father’s trade, even though he was brought up with that intent by his parents. While assisting his father part-time, he studied music, and graduated from the Prague Organ School in 1859. He also was an accomplished violinist and violist, and joined the Bohemian Theatre Orchestra, which was under the baton of Bedrich Smetana in 1860s. For financial reasons he quit the orchestra and focused on composing and teaching.
He fell in love with one of his students, but she married another man. Her sister was single, so Dvorak married the sister, Anna, in 1873, and they had nine children. Dvorak’s early compositions were influenced by Richard Wagner and Johannes Brahms, and with their support his music was performed in European capitals and received international acclaim. His performances in 1880s of Slavonic Dances, the Sixth Symphony and the Stabat Mater were a success in England, and Dvorak received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge.
He made a successful concert tour in Russia in 1890, and became a professor at the Prague Conservatory. In 1892 he received an invitation to visit America from Jeannette Thurber, the founder of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Dvorak was the Director of the National Conservatory in New York for three years (1892-95), where he also taught composition and carried on his cross-cultural studies.
Dvorak broadened his experiences through studying the music of the Native Americans and African Americans, many of whom became his students and friends. Dvorak was inspired by the originality of indigenous American music and culture, as well as by the spirituals and by the singing of his African American students. Dvorak incorporated his new ideas, blended with his Bohemian roots, into his well-known Symphony No.9 in E minor “From the New World”. He worked on this symphony for most of the spring and summer of 1893, and made it's glorious premiere in Carnegie Hall in December, 1893.
In America he also wrote the remarkable Cello Concerto and two string quartets, including the Quartet in F (“The American”). Dvorak was doing very well in New York financially, but his heart was in Prague and he left America for his Czech fatherland. He had a big family with his wife and nine children in Prague. He became the Director of the Prague Conservatory in 1901 and kept the position until his death in 1904.
Here is his most famous work, Symphony No.9 in E minor “From the New World”, performed by the Wiener Philarmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan.
The painting above is Johnson Eastman's "Life in the South: My Old Kentucky Home".