( Originally Published 1906 )
ANTON DVORAK, the Bohemian composer who has risen so suddenly into prominence, was born at Mülhausen, near Prague, Sept. 8, 1841. His father combined the businesses of tavern-keeper and butcher, and young Dvorak assisted him in waiting upon customers, as well as in the slaughtering business. As the laws of Bohemia stipulate that music shall be a part of common-school education, Dvorak learned the rudiments in the village school, and also received violin instruction. At the age of thirteen he went to work for an uncle who resided in a village where the schoolmaster was a proficient musician. The latter, recognizing his ability, gave him lessons on the organ, and allowed him to copy music. Piano-lessons followed, and he had soon grounded himself quite thoroughly in counterpoint. At the age of sixteen he was admitted to the organ-school at Prague, of which Joseph Pitsch was the principal. itsch died shortly after, and was succeeded by Kreyci, who made Dvorak acquainted with the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn.
The first orchestral work which he heard was Beethoven's " Ninth Symphony," during its rehearsal under Spohr's direction. In 1860, being then in his nineteenth year, he obtained an engagement, with the meagre salary of $I25 a year, as violinist in a band that played at cafés and dances. Two years. later he secured a position in the Bohemian Opera-House at Prague, then under the direction of Mayer, where he remained until 1871, in which year he left the theatre and devoted himself to teaching, with the prospect of earning $250 a year. These were hard days for the young musician ; but while he was thus struggling for a bare subsistence he continued writing compositions, though he had no prospect of selling them or of having them played. One writer remarks on this point " It is far from difficult to compare him in this respect with that marvellous embodiment of patience and enthusiasm, Franz Schubert; only, more fortunate than the Viennese master, the Bohemian has lived to receive his re-ward. Between these two men another point of resemblance appears. Neither can be charged with pushing or intriguing himself into prominence. Schubert had plenty of artistic ambition, but of personal ambition none ; while the quality he so entirely lacked cannot be accredited to Dvorâk, who spent the best part of his life in the enjoyment of merely local fame." About this time he wrote his "Patriotic Hymn" and the opera " Konig and Kohler;" The latter was rejected after an orchestral trial; but he continued his work, undaunted by failure. Shortly after this he received the appoint-ment of organist at the Adelbert Church, Prague, and fortune began to smile upon him. His symphony in F was laid before the Minister of Instruction in Vienna, and upon the recommendation of Herbeck secured him a grant of $200. When Brahms replaced Herbeck on the committee which reported upon artists' stipends, he fully recognized Dvorâk's ability, and not only encouraged him, but also brought him before the world by securing him a publisher and commending him to Joachim, who still further advanced his interests by securing performances of his works in Germany and England. Since that time he has risen rapidly, and is now recognized as one of the most promising of living com poses. Among his works which have been produced during the past few years are the " Stabat Mater," the cantata " The Spectre Bride," three operas in the Czechist dialect, three orchestral symphonies, several Slavonic rhapsodies, overtures, violin and piano concertos, an exceedingly beautiful sextet, and numerous songs.
The Stabat Mater
Dvorak's "Stabat Mater" was written in 1875. It was sent to the Austrian Minister of instruction, but was not deemed worthy of the grant of $200 which the composer had expected. Its merit was subsequently recognized by Brahms and Joachim, and the latter secured a hearing of it in London in 1883. It irnmediately made its composer famous. The Philharmonic Society invited him to London, and the work was given with great success at the Albert Hall, and later at the Worcester and Here-ford festivals. It was in England indeed that his celebrity was established, and for that country all his new works are now written.
The "Stabat Mater" is written for soli, chorus, and orchestra, and comprises ten numbers. The first is the quartet and chorus, " Stabat Mater dolorosa, and carries the old Latin hymn as far as the Quis est homo." After an orchestral introduction which gives out the principal motives on which the number is based, the vocal quartet begins. The materials of which it is composed are very simple, but they are worked up with great technical skill. The general effect is tragic rather than pathetic, as if the composer were contemplating not so much the grief of the Virgin Mother at the foot of the Cross as the awful nature of the tragedy itself and its far-reaching consequences.
The second number is the quartet Quis est homo." After a short introduction, the theme is taken by the alto, followed by the tenor and bass, and lastly by the soprano, the general structure growing more elaborate at each entrance. After the second subject is introduced a splendid climax is reached, and in the coda the voices whisper the words " vidit scum " to an accompaniment of wind instruments in sustained and impressive chords.
The third number, "Eta Mater," is built up on an exceedingly brief motive, which is augmented with surprising power in choral form. It is a work of scholarly skill, and yet is full of charm and grace, and will always commend itself even to the untutored hearer by its tenderness and pathetic beauty.
The fourth number, " Fac ut ardeat cor meum," for bass solo and chorus, like the third is most skit-fully constructed out of small materials, and has a fine contrast between the solo and the chorus, which at its entrance is assigned to the female voices only, with organ accompaniment.
The fifth number is the chorus " Tui nati vulnerati," which is remarkable for the smooth and flowing manner in which its two subjects are treated.
The sixth number, " Fac me vere tee-um flere," for tenor solo and chorus, is very elaborate in its construction. A stately theme is given out by the tenor, repeated in three-part harmony by male voices, the accompaniment being independent in form ; the subject then returns, first for solo, and then for male voices, in varying harmonies. After a brief vocal episode the subject reappears in still: different form, and, followed by the episode worked up at length in a coda, brings the number to its close.
The seventh number, Virgo, virgonum praclara," for full chorus, is marked by great simplicity and tenderness, and will always be one of the most popular sections of the work.
The eighth number, " Fac ut portem," is a duet for soprano and tenor, responsive in character, and constructed on very simple phrases presented in varying forms both by the voices and orchestra.
The ninth number, " Inflammatus et accensus," is one of the most masterly in the whole work. It is an alto solo composed of two subjects, the first very majestic, and the second pathetic in character, forming a contrast of _great power and beauty.
The tenth and closing number, " Quando corpus morietur, for quartet and chorus, is constructed substantially upon the same themes which appeared in the " Stabat Mater," and closes with an " Amen " of a massive character, exhibiting astonishing contrapuntal skill. One of the best English critics says of the whole work : —
"The ' Stabat Mater' approaches as near to greatness as possible, if it be not actually destined to rank among world-renowned masterpieces. It is fresh and new, while in harmony with the established canons of art; and though apparently labored and over-developed in places, speaks with the force and directness of genius."