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Antonin Dvořák

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Composer Antonin Dvořák
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Antonin Dvorak

19th century Czech composer of romantic music.

His father had an interesting combination of professions as an inn-keeper, professional zither player and butcher. Although his father wanted Antonin to follow in his footsteps as a butcher, he soon recognized his son’s early musical talent.Dvořák was born on September 8, 1841 in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) near Prague.

Young Antonin’s musical education began at the age of six at the local village school. He went on to study music at Prague’s only organ school and gradually became an accomplished violin and viola player.

By the time he was 18 years old, he was a full-time musician making the equivalent of $7.50 a month, For ten years, he became a viola player in the Bohemian Theatre Orchestra which was conducted by Bedrich Smetana. 

He composed his first string quartet when he was just out of his teens at age 20.

He supplemented his income by teaching piano through which he met his future wife. He originally fell in love with his future wife’s older sister. That romantic attempt went unrequited and he ended up marrying the younger sister Anna who eventually bore him nine children.

After his marriage, he left the theatre orchestra for employment as organist at a church in Prague which gave him enough financial security and free time to focus on composing. He composed his second string quintet just after the birth of his first son. He also produced a number of other works this year including his 5th Symphony, his first piano trio and his Serenade for Strings in E.

When Dvořák was 30 years old, he came to the attention of Brahms whom he admired greatly and who had a huge influence on Dvořák. The two later became great friends. Brahms was instrumental in getting Dvořák published.

After a successful performance of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater in London, he was invited to visit England where he became an instant success. Dvořák  later visited England eight more times, including receiving an honorary degree from Cambridge University.

In 1892, Dvořák traveled to America where he became Director of the National Conservatory in New York City for three years at a then staggering salary of $15,000 a year, Shortly after arriving, he wrote a series of newspaper articles on American music. This American feeling would be incorporated into his 9th and last symphony, the New World Symphony. One theme from that symphony would later have lyrics added to become the classic spiritual, “Goin’ Home.”

Dvořák become homesick and returned to his homeland and became Director of the Prague Conservatory.

His 60th birthday was celebrated as a National event with many concerts, banquets and other events in his honor. He died three years later after a brief illness.

As a footnote, Neil Armstrong took a recording of the New World Symphony with him on the  Apollo 11 voyage to the moon.

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