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string quintet no. 2

COMPOSED January (?) 1875 - March 1875 (revision: 1888)
PREMIERE - DATE AND PLACE original version with two slow movements: 18 March 1876, Prague
final version: (?) 25 November 1889, Boston
PREMIERE - PERFORMER(S) original version with two slow movements: Frantisek Ondricek (and others)
final version: (?) Bernhard, Paul a Fritz Listemanns, Giese, Flockton
FIRST EDITION Simrock, 1888, Berlin
MAIN KEY G major
1. Allegro con fuoco
2. Scherzo. Allegro vivace
3. Poco andante
4. Finale. Allegro assai
DURATION approx. 31 min.

composition history

String Quintet in G major, written during the first few months of 1875, is the product of an extremely prolific period in Dvorak’s career. 1875 was a landmark year in the composer’s life thus far: it was at the beginning of this year that he was awarded a state scholarship for the first time and was thus able to focus fully on his composition work. This was also a period in which his own, distinctive compositional style became more apparent, and the Quintet in G major provides a testimony of this. Dvorak was certainly aware of its qualities since, under the motto “For my nation”, he entered the work for a competition held by the artists’ association Umelecka beseda, ultimately winning first prize. He also enclosed the piece – together with several others – with his second application for a state scholarship (which he was also granted). In 1888 Dvorak chose to make revisions to several juvenilia, a decision which also led him to carry out minor adjustments to his Quintet in G major, and he offered it to his publisher Simrock along with other works. Simrock published the Quintet the following year, however – as in many other cases – with the misleading opus number 77. 


first page of the score

general characteristics

The String Quintet in G major was the most distinctive work in the composer’s hitherto development. In comparison with his previous chamber pieces, the music is not only technically more refined and structurally more balanced, but it also has a more imposing sound – the unusual addition of the double bass in place of the fifth instrument allowed the composer to move the cello part to a higher, more lyrical position. Originally, the quintet had five movements, since Dvorak decided to include the revised slow movement from his earlier String Quartet in E minor. He later abandoned the idea, however, and instead kept it as an independent piece under the title Nocturne. The first movement of the quintet is written in regular sonata form with two themes. The second movement is a scherzo, with the same outer sections and a contrasting trio. The main theme of the movement with its sharp rhythmical accents, and the second subject modulating down a major second, already anticipate Dvorak’s so-called Slavic period. The slow third movement is a typical example of Dvorakian lyricism. The prevailing mood is one of profound sentiment, instilled in the broadly arching melodies which become more animated for a moment during a restless passage in the middle section. The final movement is written in rondo form, constructed from only two themes which, during the course of the movement, crop up in different variations, thus deflecting any hint of monotony.