Jan Neff (1832–1905)

Czech entrepreneur, patron of the arts and fervent patriot. He held soirees at his home, attended by the elite of the young Czech intelligentsia. Dvořák taught the Neff family the piano from 1873 and accompanied Neff, his wife Marie and the family governess Marie Blažková as they sang songs and duets during informal gatherings. After a while, however, the performance of the German song repertoire was not enough to satisfy Neff; he lent Dvořák František Sušil’s collection of Moravian folk songs and requested that he write another voice to the existing melodies. But Dvořák decided to do something different: he took the folk texts alone and wrote his own settings for them, thus giving rise to the Moravian Duets. Neff not only initiated the Moravian Duets but he also financed their publication with Prague publisher Emanuel Starý in 1876. For Neff’s informal evening concerts Dvořák wrote arrangements of sixteen Russian folk songs as well.

Note: Jan Neff was the grandfather of the writer Vladimír Neff and great-grandfather of writer Ondřej Neff. Vladimír Neff described the life of the Neff family in an extensive collection of five novels (Marriages of Convenience, Imperial Violets, Bad Blood, The Merry Widow, and The Royal Coachman), in which the character of Antonín Dvořák also appears.