1841 — 1904
Concerto No. 1 in a minor for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 26 1880
Since music was considered a fundamental part of daily life in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) the young Dvorak had learned to “fiddle” by age 5. Soon he was imitating gypsy band music and native folk songs, singing in the church choir and spending as much time as possible playing and listening to the music of Bohemia. At age 11 the youngster was unhappily apprenticed to his father’s butcher and innkeeper trade. Fortunately the youngster encountered a musician who recognized Antonin’s natural musical abilities and viola, piano, organ, harmony and counterpoint studies followed. After struggling as a restaurant band player and church musician, Dvorak landed a position in the Czech National Opera orchestra under the direction of Bedrich Smetana; it was the famous Smetana who urged him to devote compositional efforts to the development of national music. Dvorak soon shed an imitative style of the popular Richard Wagner and began to draw deeply from native folk music. Yet the struggle to survive a state of poverty lasted until the 37-year-old’s composition Airs from Moravia caught the attention of the famous Johannes Brahms. Slavonic Dances followed and by 1884 he had become a musician’s “man of the hour.”
In 1892 Dvorak was invited to America to establish a school of composition at the newly formed National Conservatory of Music in New York (now Juilliard). The composer became deeply impressed by Negro spirituals, Creole songs, cowboy music and tribal songs and dances of the American Indian. His most admired American composer was Stephen Foster. During a three-year stay the composer wrote a cantata for the American flag, submitted an offer to write a new national anthem, and slipped a snatch of Yankee Doodle into one of his symphonies. But homesickness overcame the composer and he returned to his homeland. For the rest of his life, Dvorak composed and taught until his death from pneumonia in 1904.
The Third Movement (Finale) of the Concerto for Violin is full of Slavonic folk feeling. This spirited movement is cast in the style of a furiant, full of humor and delightful orchestral invention. It opens was a gay syncopated tune that receives a different setting on each of its frequent appearances. Dvorak writes in spiccato, a very sharply articulated violin technique on a fast-running line, while the orchestra attends to the melody line. What also appear are passages reminiscent of a Bohemian village jam session on a local Ukrainian dance, the dumka.