Dvorak in the time of COVID

by Doris Marx

As I stood in Prague's City Cemetery gazing on the tomb of composer, Antonin Dvorak, I felt I had made a pilgrimage to honor my favorite composer. Viewing his likeness on the tomb, I was in awe of the musician who brought me such joy and comfort hearing his music. Now we are in the middle of an isolating, depressing period of indeterminate length and have to shelter at home. What better way to pass the time, temporarily forget what is going on outside, and enfold myself in soaring melodies?

Along with Smetana, Dvorak developed a Czech musical vocabulary. He was widely sought after as conductor and was a disciplined maestro conveying to his musicians exactly what he wanted.  He was deeply patriotic and intensely influenced by the music of his country. Many of his works are about places and fairy tales. The contemporary hit, "The Little Mermaid," has similarities to his operatic fairy tale, "Russalka, " a tale of the doomed love between a sea creature and a human. There are too many compositions for me to describe and it would take a lifetime to examine all the symphonies, concertos, songs, chamberworks, choral pieces and religious works he completed. I especially appreciate his violin concerto and the haunting cello concerto, especially its soaring conclusion of hope and expectation. A lesser known piano concerto is not as often performed.

Dvorak wrote nine symphonies, the last one, "From the New World," is famous throughout the world as a musical impression of what he saw during his three years traveling around America. One hears spirituals, and Native American rhythms as well as the noisy din of busy cities and the wistful loneliness of the great American prairie. Having gotten a taste of his style, it is time to explore his other symphonies, each one unique and full of beautiful melodies and chances for all the instruments to shine in solo and combination passages. Other great symphonic works are his tributes to his homeland like the "Slavonic Dances," full of lively folk melodies, the Carnival Overture" and the tone poem, "In Nature's Realm."

How different our musical world would have been if due to poverty, Dvorak had been forced to take over his father's butchering business instead gaining an education to hone his musical gifts, find powerful mentors and friends like Brahms who nurtured his talent and introduced him to his publisher, and be able to travel in Europe, England and America to gain new insights and impressions to color his music.

His music is life-affirming and  soothing in uncertain times like these. Even though you have been dead for 117 years, this is my Valentine's Day note of appreciation, dear sir.