Dvořák’s music is universally articulate and feels unforced and somewhat ‘uninhibited’. Its greatest appeal lies in its striking melodies, rhythmical variety and impressive instrumentation. The composer’s music displays a wide spectrum of moods, from the joyous expression of human happiness to inner meditation. Lyricism is a distinctive characteristic of the majority of his compositions.
Dvořák is a leading representative of the circle of composers whose style falls into the Classical-Romantic synthesis category. While he created a new, original language for his means of expression, his compositional structure was usually founded on traditional formal approaches established in the High Classicism period, namely the sonata form, rondo and variations, even in works with extra-musical programmes. Even though he was not a pioneer in this regard, he succeeded in introducing new elements into the traditional formal structure, especially by incorporating stylizations of the furiant folk dance in place of the scherzo within the sonata cycle, and the dumka configuration instead of a slow movement.
Like many other 19th-century composers, Dvořák sought inspiration from folk music for many of his musical pieces. Thanks to this, he is widely regarded as one of the representatives of the so-called national schools. Unlike Bedřich Smetana, who was his senior and who focused exclusively on Czech folk culture, Dvořák expanded his scope of inspiration to draw from the folk traditions of other Slavic nations, and during his stay in America also from authentic African American and Native American music. Dvořák almost never cited folk music. By studying folk music, he acquired an understanding of its characteristic traits, on the basis of which he wrote new music using the modern compositional devices of his time.