Eduard Hanslick (1825–1904)

Eminent Austrian music critic and aesthetician; 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 Dvořák’s music when he was a member of the commission which allocated state scholarships to impoverished young musicians. Throughout Dvořák’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. Dvořák, aware of Hanslick’s international influence and renown, radically revised the work on the basis of his critical remarks. When, in the mid-1890s, Dvořák 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. Hanslick met up with Dvořák several times in Vienna, Prague, and Karlovy Vary. The composer dedicated his Legends to Hanslick.