The son of a butcher and innkeeper, his parents recognised Antonín's early musical talents, and sent him to study in Prague's Organ School, where he became an accomplished player of the violin and viola, playing the latter in the Bohemian Provisional Theatre Orchestra under their conductor Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884). He abandoned his performing career to become a professional composer in the early 1870s, and was encouraged by Johannes Brahms, who helped to promote his music. In 1888 he was appointed a professor at the Prague Conservatory, and embarked on a series of international tours. After gaining popularity in England and the United States, he accepted an invitation to become director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York from 1892, where he remained for three years. He was later director of the Prague Conservatory from 1901 until his death in 1904.
Tchaikovsky and Dvořák
Tchaikovsky was introduced to Dvořák during his visits to Prague in 1888 , and the two men found much to admire in each other's music . On 6/18 February 1888 Dvořák gave a copy of his Symphony No. 2 with a warm inscription to Tchaikovsky, which is still preserved in the House-Museum at Klin . Two days later, Tchaikovsky repaid the compliment by presenting Dvořák with a photograph of himself bearing the following inscription: "To my dear and deeply esteemed friend Anton [sic] Dvořák from a sincere admirer, P. Tchaikovsky. 20/8 February 1888". Later that year, Tchaikovsky returned to Prague to conduct, on 24 November/6 December 1888, the first performance outside Russia of Yevgeny Onegin (the opera's libretto had been translated into Czech by Marie Červinková-Riegrová, who was the librettist for a number of operas by Dvořák). The performance was attended by Dvořák, who wrote an enthusiastic letter (in Czech) to Tchaikovsky on 2/14 January 1889:
My dear friend!
When you visited us the last time in Prague I promised to write to you about your opera Onegin. I am prompted to do so not just by your request, but also by my own feeling, which impels me to express everything that I felt while listening to your work. I joyfully confess that your opera made a big and profound impression on me, precisely of the kind that I always expect from a true work of art. I do not hesitate to say that not one of your compositions has pleased me so much as Onegin has.
This is a wonderful work, full of warm feeling and poetry, worked out into the smallest details — in short, it is a music which lures us to itself and penetrates so deeply into the soul that it is impossible to forget it. When I am at the theatre [during performances of Onegin] I feel myself transported into another world.
I congratulate you and ourselves on such a work, and God grant that you may bequeathe many more such works to the world.
Antonín Dvořák" .
Tchaikovsky replied (in Russian) two weeks later: "You cannot imagine how glad your letter made me. Your opinion about my opera is especially valuable to me not just because you are a great artist, but also because you are a truthful and sincere person! I am proud, I am happy to the utmost that I have succeeded in winning a word of sincere approval precisely from you, my kind, much esteemed friend! I thank you once again with all my heart!!!" .
It was on Tchaikovsky's initiative that Dvořák was invited to Russia, to conduct concerts of his own works in Moscow and Saint Petersburg . Dvořák's successful Russian tour took place in March and April 1890, when Tchaikovsky was unfortunately away in Italy.
Correspondence with Tchaikovsky
3 letters from Tchaikovsky to Antonín Dvořák have survived, dating from 1888 to 1889, all of which have been translated into English on this website:
- Letter 3529 – 15/27 March 1888, from Vienna
- Letter 3772 – 18/30 January 1889, from Frolovskoye
- Letter 3800 – 17 February/1 March 1889, from Leipzig
One letter from Dvořák to Tchaikovsky has survived, dating from 1889.
- Internet Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
Notes and References
- See also Tchaikovsky's diary entry for 31 January/12 February 1888, in which he notes that on the evening of the day of his arrival in Prague he attended a performance of Verdi's Otello at the opera-house and spoke with Dvořák during one of the intervals. See (1993), p. 195. See also letter 3490 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 2/14 February 1888, in which he describes how he had been received in Prague, noting among other things: "Yesterday morning there was a visit from Dvořák, who sat in my [hotel] room for two hours [...] Today [...] I am having dinner at Dvořák's place". That same evening, he noted in his diary: "Dinner at Dvořák's. His wife is a simple, likeable woman and a splendid housewife". Dvořák attended the rehearsals for the concert of his works which Tchaikovsky was due to conduct in Prague on 7/19 February 1888, as the latter noted in his diary on 4/16 February: "Rehearsal [...] Didn't go too badly. Lots of curious people. Dvořák was there and was awfully kind". See (1993), p. 196.
- For example, during his first visit to Prague Tchaikovsky attended a musical soirée in his honour at the Artists' Forum (Umělecká beseda) on 2/14 February 1888, and he noted in his diary later that evening: "They played a quartet by Smetana, a quartet by Kovařovic, and a quintet by Dvořák [the Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81]. The latter is very nice to me, and I like his quintet". See (1993), p. 196.
- See (1940), p. 439.
- Dvořák's letter is included in (1970), p. 179-180 (Russian translation), p. 219 (original text in Czech).
- Letter 3772 to Antonín Dvořák, 18/30 January 1889.
- See Letter 3763 to Adolf Patera, director of the Czech Museum, on 9/21 January 1889, in which Tchaikovsky asked Patera to discuss with Dvořák the possibility of his coming to Russia to conduct some concerts of the Russian Musical Society. Patera wrote back to Tchaikovsky on 18/30 January 1889 and told him that Dvořák was very interested in visiting Russia together with his wife, and that he had started taking Russian lessons. This and other letters from Patera to Tchaikovsky are included in (1970), p. 182.