Czech Suite, Op. 39, B93
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
April 1879 (?)
Premiere - date and place
16 May 1879, Prague
Provisional Theatre Orchestra, conductor Adolf Cech
Schlesinger, 1881, Berlin
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, violins, violas, cellos, double basses
Parts / movements
1. Preludio (Pastorale). Allegro moderato
2. Polka. Allegretto grazioso
3. Sousedska (Minuetto). Allegro giusto
4. Romanza. Andante con moto
5. Finale (Furiant). Presto
approx. 23 min.
After the success of the Serenades in E major and D minor, Dvorak had in mind to write another work of the same formal disposition, this time incorporating Czech folk dances. For this objective, however, the label “serenade” was not wholly appropriate, thus the initial idea gradually crystallised into the decision to write a suite which, for the premiere, was given the subtitle “Czech”. The work was first performed in Prague on 16 May 1879 at a concert organised by the Association of Czech Journalists, conducted by Adolf Cech. A year later Dvorak conducted his Czech Suite himself in Prague, on 29 March 1880 at a benefit concert to raise money for the construction of the National Theatre. The work was published in 1881 by Berlin-based firm Schlesinger.
The Czech Suite is written in five parts. The first, marked Preludio (Pastorale), is indeed something of a lyrical introduction to the subsequent movements, with very little contrast and a melodic line in the upper voices flowing smoothly above an ostinato bass figure consisting merely of two alternating whole tones. The second movement is a poetic stylisation of the Czech folk dance “polka”; the main theme in its principal setting of D minor is essentially melancholic in nature, but later shifts to F major and becomes more rhythmical and expressive. The movement is arranged in three parts, A-B-A. The third movement is inspired by another folk dance, the “sousedska”, a slow dance in 3/4 time, and is typical for its colourful imitative treatment of the principal theme. The fourth movement, labelled Romance, offers a wonderful lyrical nocturne in which, to a serene accompaniment in the strings, a broad melody opens up an arc in the flute and is later taken up by other instruments. The final furiant rounds off the suite in dazzling style with its lively expression and more boisterous temperament: in the coda Dvorak reinforces the existing orchestral line-up with a trumpet and timpani. This movement has been compared to the Slavonic Dances with which it shares its stirring rhythms and sense of abandon. In its lyricism, vitality, rich melodic invention and formal clarity, the Czech Suite is one of Dvorak’s most characteristic works.