Cypresses, B11

Opus number

Burghauser catalogue number


Date of composition

10 July - 27 July 1865

Premiere - date and place

1 May 1983, Prague (text in English translation)

Premiere performer(s)

Eva Serning, Radoslav Kvapil

First edition

Talacko, 2007, Prague

Author of the text

Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky

Parts / movements

1. You ardent songs, go forth through the night (Vy vrouci pisne spejte)
2. In that sweet power of your eyes (V te sladke moci oci tvych)
3. So many a heart is as though dead (V tak mnohem srdci mrtvo jest)
4. Oh dear soul, the only one (O duse draha jedinka)
5. Oh, it was a lovely, golden dream (O byl to krasny zlaty sen)
6. I know that in sweet hope (Ja vim, ze v sladke nadeji)
7. Oh golden rose, fair (O zlata ruze spanila)
8. Oh, that longed-for happiness does not bloom for our love (O nasi lasce... )
9. Around the house now I stagger (Kol domu se ted potacim)
10. Doubt often torments me (Mne casto tyra pochyba)
11. My heart often broods in pain (Me srdce casto v bolesti)
12. Here I look upon this dear letter (Zde hledim na ten drahy list)
13. On the mountains quiet (Na horach ticho)
14. Here in the forest by a brook (Zde v lese u potoka)
15. Pensively through my whole soul (Mou celou dusi)
16. There stands an old crag (Tam stojí stara skala)
17. Over the countryside reigns a light


approx. 40 min.

composition history

The composition of the song cycle Cypresses was a response to the young composer’s rejection by the actress Josefina Cermakova (Dvorak later married her younger sister Anna). The composer became acquainted with her when they were both working at the Provisional Theatre, and he spent more time with her as her piano teacher. He found a reflection of his state of mind in the poetry collection Cypresses by Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky. Its section called Songs he set to music in its entirety in July 1865. Many years later, the composer characterised the ideas underlining the songs, stating: “Just imagine a young man in love – that’s what they’re all about!” Dvorak dedicated the songs to his friend Karel Bendl

general characteristics

Cypresses is Dvorak’s first song opus and one of his very earliest surviving works. While writing the settings for his songs, the composer was not looking at individual details, but focusing more on their overall mood. The refined, elegant expression of the music detracts from the somewhat sentimental character of the verse. As regards melody, harmony and form, Dvorak’s songs are highly individual and give us a hint of the mastery to come – particularly in terms of his exquisitely melodic vocal lines, the formal scheme and his ability to capture the essence of the text. On the other hand, the songs also betray problems with the declamation of the Czech text, of which Dvorak was later aware, since he subsequently wrote into the manuscript: “When I played these songs with Mr Bendl, he told me that the declamation was flawed in many places; one year on, when I chanced upon this unripe fruit of mine, I saw to my gratification that Mr Bendl’s comment was entirely justified.” 

subsequent history

Dvorak was very attached to this early work and, even though he never published it in its original version, in a show of great determination, he kept returning to it his whole life. He initially used songs Nos. 6 and 10 in the first version of his opera King and Collier. He returned once again to the tenth song when he was writing his opera Vanda, and used its melody for the heroine’s aria “I was happy, tranquil and cheerful”. A few years later he used the fundamental motif of the song “Here in the forest by a brook” for his piano cycle Silhouettes. In 1881 (or 1882) Dvorak chose six parts from his Cypresses and reworked them for a new edition simply entitled Songs, Op. 2. He proceeded in the same way seven years later, when he rewrote eight songs as Love Songs, Op. 83. In the spring of 1887 he took twelve songs from Cypresses and wrote an instrumental arrangement for string quartet; this version was sometimes given the title Evening Songs since Dvorak had apparently composed the entire cycle mostly late at night (in the manuscript for one of the songs Dvorak had written the note “Composed by moonlight at 11pm.”). Echoes of this, his first song opus, also found their way into the opera Rusalka many years later. Cypresses was first performed in public in its original version in 1983 with an English translation by musicologist John Clapham. The work was first published in 2007.