Concerts of Classical Music, Presented by Concert Agency AVEK

Antonín Dvořák - Slavonic Dances

booklet text with mp3 files


The Slavonic Dances, one of the most frequently performed compositions by Antonín Dvořák (8.9. 1841 - 1.5. 1904),became very popular immediately after publication. The "Slavonic Dances" were composed at the request of a Berlin publisher Fritz Simrock who learned about Dvořák through Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897), the famous German composer. Brahms was a member of the Austrian imperial committee established to assign scholarships to "young, poor and indigent artists". Dvořák, an unknown Czech composer at that time, applied to this committee for evaluation of his work. Noticing Dvořák's talent, Brahms recommended him to his own editor Simrock after the committee awarded him the scholarship. The very first of Dvořák's works published by Simrock - "The Moravian Duets" - attained enormous success, prompting Simrock - who had a dance-like piece in mind - to invite Dvořák to write another composition for him.

Dvořák interrupted work on his "Slavonic Rhapsodies" and between March 18th and May 7th of 1878 composed the eight contrasting dances for four-hand piano playing at home. Six days after he started with the first dance, he wrote a letter to Brahms in Vienna: "Mr. Simrock asked me to write a couple of Slavonic dances. Not being sure how to commence, I did my best to get hold of your famous Hungarian Dances which I´m taking the liberty of using as a pattern for my Slavonic Dances...."

In contrast to Brahms who used the original melodies of Hungarian folk dances, Dvořák created entirely stylized versions of the characteristic Slavonic dances using the folk rhythms only, and composing his own original music. He selected the following dances: "furiant" (numbers 1 [mp3] and 8  [mp3] ), "polka" (#3 [mp3] ), "sousedská" (#4 [mp3], 6 [mp3] ) and "skočná" (#5 [mp3], 7 [mp3] ). The second dance is a typical meditation ("dumka" [mp3] ).

Within the same year, 1878, Simrock published both the piano and orchestra versions. He was more than satisfied with them not only from the artistic point of view but also from the financial one. This is underscored by the fact that eight years later he requested another series of dances from Dvořák. Dvořák's initial reluctance was due to his fear of the "competition" between the intended composition and the original successful series of dances. Eventually, however, he started work on the new series of "Slavonic Dances" even with relish, as he admitted in the letter (dated June 11th, 1886) to Simrock: "...everything is going smoothly now. I love working on the Slavonic Dances and believe they will be quite different (no jokes or irony !)."

Within the new series Dvořák further extended the set of chosen dances. He used "sousedská" (number 16 [mp3] ) and "skocná" (#11 [mp3] ) again, while introducing "spacírka" (#13 [mp3] ) - which was inspired by watching youngsters dance during his summer holidays in Vysoká - Slovakian "odzemek" (#9 [mp3] ), Polish "mazur" (#14 [mp3] ) and Southern-Slavonic "wheel" (#15 [mp3] ). Numbers 10 [mp3] and 12 [mp3] are again typical Ukrainian meditations ("dumky"). Composed between June 9th and July 9th of 1886, this new series was again initially intended for four-hand piano playing which was followed by the orchestra version. Once again the "Slavonic Dances" were met with great enthusiasm not only by Simrock but others.

© AVEK Agency

Martina Hájková & Jarka Vítová - piano

The sisters Martina Vítová-Hájková and Jaroslava Vítová, after studies at the Prague Conservatory, graduated from the Musical College of Prague's Academy of Performing Arts in the class of the outstanding pianist and pedagogue Valentina Kameníková. Martina Vítová-Hájková is a Professor at the Prague Conservatory, and also devotes herself to solo and chamber concertizing. Jaroslava Vítová teaches at the Musical College of Prague's Academy of Performing Arts. In 1994 she founded the chamber orchestra Archi di Praga collegio, of which she is the artistic director.

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