Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/638

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622
DVOŘÁK.
 

he could have kept himself alive. He joined one of the town-bands as viola-player, and for some three years lived upon the meagre earnings obtained in cafés and other places of the same kind. When a Bohemian theatre was opened in Prague in 1862, the band to which he belonged was employed to provide the occasional music, and when that institution was established on a firm basis, as the National Theatre, Dvořák, with some others of his companions, was chosen a member of the orchestra. While here he benefited by his intercourse with Smetana, who held the post of conductor from 1866 to 1874. A kind friend was found in Carl Bendl, a native of Prague, who after holding important musical posts at Brussels and Amsterdam, had returned in 1866 to Prague as conductor of a choral society, and who gave Dvořák every opportunity in his power of becoming acquainted with the masterpieces of art. His own resources were of course not sufficient to allow him to buy scores, and the possession of a piano of his own was not to be thought of. In spite of these drawbacks, he worked on steadily at composition, experimenting in almost every form of music. As early as 1862 he had written a string quintet; by 1865 two symphonies were completed; about this time a grand opera on the subject of Alfred was composed to a German libretto, and many songs were written. The most ambitious of these efforts were afterwards committed to the flames by their author. In 1873 he was appointed organist of St. Adalbert's church in Prague, a stroke of good fortune which allowed him not only to give up his orchestral engagement, but to take to himself a wife. He increased his scanty salary by taking private pupils, but as yet his circumstances were exceedingly humble.

It was in this, his 32nd year, that he first came before the public as a composer, with the patriotic cantata or hymn, written to words by Hálek, 'Die Erben des weissen Berges' (The heirs of the white mountain). The subject was happily chosen, and the spontaneous and thoroughly national character of the music ensured its success. In the same year one of two Notturnos for orchestra was performed, and in 1874 an entire symphony in E♭, and a scherzo from a symphony in D minor were given. Neither of these symphonies appear in his list of works; they were not the same as the two earlier compositions, which were in B♭ and E minor respectively. By this time the composer had begun to make a name for himself, and the authorities of the National Theatre resolved to produce an opera by him. When 'Der König und der Köhler' ('The King and the Collier') was put into rehearsal, however, it turned out to be quite impracticable, owing to the wildly unconventional style of the music, and the composer actually had the courage to rewrite it altogether, preserving scarcely a note of the original score. In this form it was successfully produced, and, the rumour of his powers and of the scantiness of his resources reaching Vienna, he received in the following year a pension of about £50 per annum from the Kultusministerium. This stipend, increased in the following year, was the indirect means of procuring him the friendship and encouragement of Johannes Brahms, who, on Herbeck's death iu 1877, was appointed to succeed him on a commission formed for examining the compositions of the recipients of this grant. In this way the delightful collection of duets, called 'Klange aus Mahren,' came before the Viennese composer, and it is not to be wondered at that he discerned in them all the possibilities that lay before their author. A wonderfully happy use of national characteristics is the most attractive feature of these duets, and a good opportunity for again displaying his knowledge of these peculiarities was soon given him; he received a commission from Simrock the publisher to write a series of 'Slavische Tänze' for pianoforte duet. The work, completed in 1878, had almost as great a success as the Hungarian dances of Brahms, published several years before. The wide popularity which the dances rapidly attained in all parts of Germany led, as was only natural, to the publication of compositions of every form, which the composer had almost despaired of ever seeing in print. It was now evident to all musicians that a new and fully developed composer had arisen, not a mere student whose progress from lighter to more elaborate forms could be watched and discussed, but a master whose style was completely formed, and whose individuality had, in its development, escaped all the trammels of convention. His long experience of orchestras had served him well, and had given him a feeling for instrumental colouring such as has been acquired by very few even of those composers whose education has been most complete. But though musical culture and the constant intercourse with artists and critics undoubtedly tend to crush distinctive originality, they have their advantages too, and a composer who wishes to employ the classical forms with ease and certainty will hardly be able to dispense with these necessary evils. In judging of Dvořák's works, it must always be remembered that a large amount of his chamber music was written without any immediate prospect of a public performance, and without receiving any alterations such as judicious criticism might have suggested.

Since the publication of the 'Slavische Tanze,' the composer has been in the happy position of the country which has no history, or rather his history is to be read in his works, not in any biography. Of late years England has played an important part in his career. Since the dances above referred to were arranged for orchestra, and played at the Crystal Palace (on Feb. 15, 1879) his name has become gradually more and more prominent, and it cannot be said that the English musical world has been remiss in regard to this composer, whatever may be our shortcomings in some other respects. An especial meed of praise is due to an amateur