Josef Srb-Debrnov (1836–1904)

Music theoretician, publicist and cellist, close friend and supporter of Bedřich Smetana, important figure in Prague music circles during the latter half of the 19th century. He probably made Dvořák’s acquaintance in 1878 as a member of a company of musicians who met up in a cafe in Prague’s New Town district. He was in frequent contact with Dvořák in subsequent years, he was a great admirer of his work and was part of a group of friends who clubbed together to raise money for Dvořák’s family during the mid-1870s at a time when they were in need of financial assistance. He provided German translations of the libretto for Dvořák’s opera Vanda and the texts of the Moravian Duets and the cycles Songs on the Words of the Dvůr Kralové Manuscript and Four Songs on the Words of Serbian Folk Poems. Srb-Debrnov organised regular chamber music afternoons at his home; these informal gatherings were also attended by Dvořák who, on one occasion, played the viola part in the first ever performance of Smetana’s string quartet From My Life. For these music afternoons Dvořák wrote Bagatelles for Two Violins, Cello and Harmonium (Srb had a harmonium in his flat, thus the unusual instrumentation). Dvořák dedicated the piece to Srb. At the end of 1881 Dvořák and Srb had a stern exchange of views on matters of composition, after which their relationship was never the same. Srb-Debrnov wrote an extensive biographical treatise on Dvořák which was never published, however.