The artistic legacy of Antonín Dvořák is one of the fundamental pillars of European cultural heritage. People of today, worn out by the frenzied stampede of the 21st century and by the reign of omnipresent flashy consumerism, may perceive Dvořák’s humane and kind music as a solid rock that brings unquestionable value and a return to the roots.
During his lifetime, Dvořák became one of the most significant symphonists and composers of oratorio and chamber music in Europe. Beginning in the 1880s, his music was played by first-class performers in the most celebrated music hubs in many European countries, the United States of America, Canada, Russia and Australia. Towards the end of his life, Dvořák was often referred to as the grandest music composer alive.
In the international context, Dvořák is the most played Czech composer and the most famous Czech artist of all times. He laid down the foundations of Czech cantata and oratorio music, and was the first person to introduce modern Czech music culture in Europe on a broader scale. Dvořák’s music – emerging from Czech roots, yet simultaneously global, traditional and contemporary in every era – was and still is of key importance for Czech the lands, and has a significant place within the context of European cultural history.
Dvořák’s position in the history of music (and perhaps of culture in general) is unique thanks to him being one of the few artists who managed to unambiguously convey the emotion of human happiness through his work. Nevertheless, one cannot overlook the other dimension of the composer’s work. Several of his pieces of music – often the most fundamental ones – are light years away from the sunlit rural idyll that is usually automatically associated with Dvořák’s music. Symphony No. 7, Requiem, Piano Trio in F minor and other opuses by the composer present Dvořák in a completely different light: as someone contemplating the meaning of human existence and as a ruminative individual who had to go through pain to achieve inner equilibrium.
His teaching activities at conservatories in Prague and New York, from which a number of excellent composers emerged under his tutelage, and his time as a music conductor also form an inseparable part of the composer’s legacy. He conducted the premieres and many repeat performances of a sizeable number of his own musical pieces, and by doing so, he demonstrated his concept on how a given piece should be performed.
Dvořák’s role in history was also symbolic – in the late 19th century, his work represented a brand new historical situation, i.e. the Czech environment no longer felt the need to catch up with modern emancipated nations; on the contrary, it was able to export its own cultural values with European attributes around the world.