Dvorak String Quartet in F, Op.96
In 1892 Antonin Dvorák came to the Unites States to serve as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He stayed for three years, and won himself a reputation as a teacher, composer, and conductor. It was also during this time that he composed some of his best known and most loved works; these include the "New World" Symphony, the Cello Concerto, and this quartet in F major, also called the "American" quartet.
Dvorák wrote this quartet in three days while vacationing
in a small Bohemian colony in Iowa. He was surrounded by pleasant
farmers, friendly priests, and generous housewives; this would be a
good explanation for the simple character of the piece. Perhaps
being away from home helped him forget about the conflits between
the predominant Austro-German tradition and the new Nationalistic Bohemian tradition
that he was trying to create. Now we hear music that does not
belong to any school, but is purely Dvorak's own style.
Hear Movements 2, 3, & 4
Movement 1 (MIDI) | Movement 2 | Movement 3 | Movement 4
Recorded: in the TJHSST Auditorium in 1997
Violins: Miki-Sophia Cloud, 1st; Esther Shaw, 2nd;
Viola: Sean Hardesty;
Cello: Sarah Poulsen;
There is a common misconception that Dvorak based the quartet's themes on African spirituals that he encountered while in America. However, according to one expert, "Dvorák merely adopted the idioms of slave song, and embodied them in melodies of his own creation for the purpose of showing American composers that they had a body of true folk-song in their own country which might be utilized in building up a national school." So Dvorak, the great Czech nationalist, was here trying to inspire nationalistic thought in american composers.
It is easy to hear why some think that the quartet is based on
American folk melodies: the main theme of each movement is in the
distinctive mode of F-G-A-C-D.
This is a popular mode, and can be heard not only in African
plantation songs and American Indian music, but all over the world
(including Dvorak's native Bohemia). This interest in modal writing
was not just a fancy of Dvorak's, either - in the same year,
Claude Debussy wrote his
famous String Quartet in g, which is
also based on pentatonic modes.
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