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Monday, 10 November 2014

Antonín Dvorák

Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904)  was born on September 8, 1841, in Nelahozeves, near Prague, now in the Czech Republic.

Antonin's father was a butcher and innkeeper, who also played the zither and composed a few simple dances.

Antonín was exposed to music in and around his father's inn and started to have violin lessons from the village schoolmaster. The youngster became an accomplished violinist playing with amateur musicians at local dances.

Antonín was sent to the organ school in Prague in 1857 for two years.

After leaving school Dvorák began to earn his living playing the viola in concerts and in the Estates Theatre when they needed a big orchestra for Wagner’s operas Lohengrin and Tannhäuser.

The band Dvorák played with became part of the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra, which from 1866 was conducted by Bedřich Smetana. Dvořák was principal viola player in the orchestra. He earned extra money by teaching, and he started to compose.

Antonín Dvořák in 1868.

In 1871 Dvorák left the orchestra so that he could spend more time composing. For several years he still had to teach in order to earn enough money to live.

Dvorák originally fell in love with his pupil and colleague from the Provisional Theater, Josefína Čermáková, for whom he composed the song-cycle "Cypress Trees". However, she never returned his love and ended up marrying another man.

Dvořák married Josefina's younger sister, Anna Čermáková (1854–1931) on November 17, 1873 at St Peter’s church in Prague. They had nine children together, three of whom died in infancy.

Dvořák with his wife Anna in London, 1886.

Dvorak received the Austrian State Prize in 1875 for his 'Symphony in E Flat'.

A grant by the Austrian government brought Dvorák into contact with Johannes Brahms in 1877, who introduced his music to Vienna. Brahms advised Dvorak and recommended him to his publisher, Fritz Simrock.

It was Simrock's publication of his "Moravian Duets" in 1876 and "Slavonic Dances" in 1878 that first attracted worldwide attention to Dvorak and to his country's music.

In 1891 Dvorák was offered and accepted the directorship of the New York Conservatory. He was paid the then-huge salary of $15,000 a year.

Dvorák wrote his Ninth Symphony, the hugely-popular "From the New World" in the USA. He wrote it to mark the fourth centennial of Columbus' "discovery" of America.

Dvorák originally claimed that he used elements from American music such as spirituals and Native American music in his Ninth Symphony, but later denied this. It premiered at Carnegie Hall in New York City on December 16, 1893.

Dvorak missed Bohemia and in 1895 he returned to Prague.


Dvorak had a life-long love of trains, which probably had its origins in his boyhood experience of watching the new railway line and station being built at the village of Nelahozeves. Later, in Prague, he would pay daily visits to the Franz-Josef station and the shunting yards to note down the names and numbers of the engines.

Dvorak never lost an opportunity to visit a railway station when he was on tour to indulge in a bit of transporting and chat with the drivers and engineers. During his final years he visited Prague’s railway stations on an almost daily basis.

Dvorák was director of the Prague Conservatory from 1901 until his death from Bright's disease three years later on May 1, 1904.

Dvořák's funeral on 5 May 1904 

Sources Europress Family Encyclopaedia, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, Classic FM Magazine, Wikipedia 

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