…This is Dvořák in a gentle, sometimes wistful mood….
ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Waltz in A Major, op. 54, No. 1
In the village of his birth, Nelahozeves (about 64 kilometres north of Prague), Dvořák’s father was innkeeper and butcher, and later earned his living as a zither player. Antonin’s musical abilities became apparent early; as a child, he learned the violin, sang in the local church and then played in the local orchestra. Then, aged 12, he was sent to Zlonice, where he lived with an uncle, and acquired a knowledge of German and learned piano, viola and organ.
Subsequently, Dvořák earned his living as an orchestral viola player, most notably in the Czech National Opera Orchestra which, at one time, was conducted by Bedřich Smetana. Recognition for Dvořák’s music would come much later, and this Waltz dates from the years of his breakthrough success, the late 1870s, when Brahms became championed him, and persuaded his own publisher, Simrock, to take on Dvořák’s Moravian Duets.
Pianist Stephen Hough has described Dvořák’s music as “healthy;” his gift for creating memorable melodies, and his love of the Bohemian countryside and its people, resulted in some of the most open-hearted music of the 19th century, and this beautiful waltz is an example of his art at its most immediately appealing.
He composed his Eight Waltzes, Op. 54, in early 1880, originally for an anniversary ball. They are wonderfully original, and range in mood from the wistful to the boisterous. Dvořák wrote them for solo piano, but in the course of organising a concert a few months later, he arranged two of them – the first (which you hear today) and the fourth – for string quartet. This is Dvořák in a gentle, sometimes wistful mood.
Brahms remained one of Dvořák’s staunchest champions, and once said of his own music: “I should be glad if something occurred to me as a main idea that occurs to Dvořák only by the way.”
© Phillip Sametz, 2021