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Antonin Dvorak's recollections of childhood

(retold by Vaclav Juda Novotny, translated by Roberta Finlayson Samsour)

"Look there at the little village with the long name of Nelahozeves. And there just below the castle of the Prince Lobkowitz, that low building... do you see it? - that's where my father had his inn and at the same time carried on his trade of butcher. It was in that little house that I was born and here in this lovely countryside that I spent my poor childhood." The Master's voice sounded strangely soft ... he fell silent for a while and his dark moist eyes wandered over the familiar scene. Suddenly his gaze came to rest on a particular point and round his lips there played a roguish smile. "The little church there . . . that's where I played my first violin solo. And what a fuss I was in that time and how afraid I was when I tuned my fiddle and how my bow shook at the first notes. But it turned out all right. When I had finished, there was a hum and buzz throughout the whole choir, everybody pressed round me-my friends smiled happily at me and clapped me good-naturedly on the shoulder, and our neighbour, the leader of the violins, gave me a whole groschen. That was the happier side of my youth, the brighter moments, but even the darker side was not uninteresting though it cost me many a tear. Look there! These are the places I used to visit with my Father to buy all kinds of cattle-beasts, and when my Father entrusted me with one or other member of the brute creation, it would often out of sheer exuberence give me the slip, or without more ado drag me into the nearest pond, so that my situation was not exactly enviable. But all the calamities and trials of my young life were sweetened by music, my guardian angel . . . That little church on the hill there, is my old acquaint ance. There, at fair times, I would play under the leadership of the brother of my Zlonice teacher, Liehmann, who was choir master here..."

 


 

Antonin Dvorak's recollections of the Prague organ school

(retold by Josef Michl, translated by Roberta Finlayson Samsour)

"At the organ-school everything smelt of mould. Even the organ. Anybody who warted to learn anything had to know German. Anyone who knew German well could be dux of the class, but if he did not know German he could not be dux. My knowledge of German was poor, and even if I knew something I could not get it out. My fellow-pupils looked a little 'down their noses' at me and laughed at me behind their backs. And later on they still laughed at me. When they discovered that I was composing, they said among themselves: 'Just imagine that Dvorak! Do you know that he composes too?' And all those who laughed at me got on better than I did. . ."

 


 

Antonin Dvorak's recollections of Richard Wagner

(retold by Josef Michl, translated by David R. Beveridge)

"Although I’m not a Wagnerian at the bottom of my heart, I like Wagner very much and I’m glad that I saw him with my own eyes. It was during the time when I received a state grant and because of that I went to Vienna. At the court opera they were preparing Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, and Wagner led the rehearsals. Naturally I found out about that and, although the public was not allowed to attend the rehearsals, I managed to get in with a certain gentleman. The rehearsal was in full swing. I began looking around for Wagner and immediately I saw him! He was in the parterre. He had a cane in his hand, walked about from one place to another, and listened. But he frowned and was always dissatisfied: again and again he poked the conductor in the back with his cane and said something to him. The orchestra stopped playing and waited for the conductor and Wagner to finish speaking. And hardly did they resume playing when Wagner poked the conductor in the back with his cane again. As I say, I appreciate the fact that I saw Wagner, but I would have been even more pleased to have spoken with him. But at that time I didn’t have the courage to introduce myself to him, because Wagner was at the pinnacle of his fame and I was still unknown to almost everybody."