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ANTONIN DVORAK AS PERFORMER

Note: The following information gives an account of Dvorak’s performances in the role of conductor, pianist, violist and organist. The lists below do not include Dvorak’s engagements with the Komzak Ensemble, the Cecilian Association Orchestra and the Provisional Theatre Orchestra, where he worked as an orchestral viola player (not as a soloist).


Dvorak’s appearances as a performer were significant for the history of music production in the Czech environment during the last third of the 19th century. While concert life was well established throughout the 19th century in a number of European cities such as Vienna and London, in Prague there was a considerable disproportion between the relatively frequent performance of opera, and the insufficient number and also standard of programmes organised for the concert stage; the latter failed to attract the interest of audiences or even the artists themselves, a situation which would endure at least until the 1880s.

This state of affairs, governed by the socio-political climate at that time, did not improve until the end of the century, and Dvorak played a significant part in this process. The composer’s influence was also in evidence outside the capital, thanks to Dvorak’s long-term involvement in the musical activities of a number of Czech and Moravian towns. The composer’s frequent tours, including performances of his own works, were welcomed by the concert-going public who, in comparison with inhabitants of the metropolis, found it difficult to gain access to high culture.

The programming involved in Dvorak’s appearances was also a major factor. In contrast to the practice common for that time, whereby concert programmes were devised to include some sort of “medley” of popular melodies by different composers, Dvorak’s concerts reflected a high standard of programming and thus contributed to a greater demand for more discerning audiences. In presenting frequent premieres and giving numerous repeat performances of his key works, Dvorak laid the foundations for the interpretative style which would shape the performance of his own compositional legacy. The origin of the “Talich” interpretation, which is today often regarded as exemplary, can thus be traced directly back to the composer himself.

    
  Dvorak conducting
a concert of his own works
at the World Fair in Chicago
(drawing by M. V. Nadherny)

A considerable number of Dvorak’s performances took place abroad. The presence of the composer and his direct participation in the performances of given works would certainly have been an attractive prospect and a much more effective way to promote the music itself as well. Moreover, Dvorak loved to draw attention to his Czechness beyond the borders of his native country; thus, with a degree of hyperbole, one could say that he was also something of an ambassador of Czech music which, in turn, benefited other Czech composers and performers.