Hanslick, Eduard (1825 - 1904)

Eminent German music critic and aesthetician of Czech origin; leading representative of aesthetic formalism. The guiding principles of his aesthetic theories were rooted chiefly in the traditions of the Viennese School, emphasis on instrumental music, and resistance towards the music theatre reform that Richard Wagner was implementing through his operas. Hanslick wholly rejected the idea of programme music, referring to the complete self-sufficiency of “pure”, absolute music, whose most distinctive means of expression are the notes themselves. He became acquainted with Dvorak’s music when he was a member of the commission which allocated state scholarships to impoverished young musicians. Throughout Dvorak’s professional career he acknowledged him as an author of absolute music, which he promoted extensively in German-speaking countries, and he took a lively interest in all the composer’s new works: on one occasion, he travelled to Prague to attend the premiere of the opera Dimitrij (Dvorak, aware of Hanslick’s international influence and renown, radically revised the work on the basis of his critical remarks).  

When, in the mid-1890s, Dvorak did, in fact, turn his attention towards programme music – particularly in his symphonic poems set to themes from Erben’s poetry – Hanslick expressed his disapproval of this particular trend in the composer’s work. As a friend of Dvorak’s Publisher Fritz Simrock, Hanslick met up with Dvorak several times in Karlovy Vary, Vienna, Prague and elsewhere. Dvorak dedicated his Legends to Hanslick. 

Eduard Hanslick about Dvorak's Eighth Symphony:

“As the last work on the programme, the symphony may have been placed in the most perilous position, but it triumphed with the purest of resources. While this composition is, from start to finish, undeniably the work of Dvorak, it differs considerably from both his previous symphonies now familiar in Vienna [...] This entire work, one of Dvorak’s best, is laudable for the fact that it is not pedantic yet, despite its composure, it is also far removed from naturalism. Dvorak is a serious artist who has learned much but, despite his knowledge, he has not sacrificed spontaneity and freshness. His works give voice to a singular individual, who emanates a refreshing breath of innovation and originality.”

Eduard Hanslick about Dvorak's symphonic poems:

“I am an appreciative audience where Dvorak’s music is concerned, perhaps I perceive its appeal all too keenly yet, even so, I could not remain silent regarding the dangers of this latest tendency. Dvorak has no cause to go begging before literary texts (and what literature this is!), that they might bolster his composition. His rich musical invention needs no loans, crutches or instruction. [...] It is with a strange passion that Dvorak now indulges in ugly, unnatural and ghastly stories which correspond so little to his amiable character and to the true musician that he is. In The Water Goblin we are given a fiend who cuts off his own child’s head and throws it to its disconsolate mother; in the Noon Witch it is the woman-spectre in whose arms an innocent child breathes its last.”