Humoresques, Op. 101, B187

Opus number


Burghauser catalogue number


Date of composition

7 – 27 August 1894

Premiere - date and place

(?) No. 5: 13 February 1896, Frankfurt am Main

Premiere performer(s)

(?) No. 5: Josef Růžička

First edition

Simrock, 1895, Berlin

Parts / movements

1. Vivace
2. Poco andante
3. Poco andante e molto cantabile
4. Poco andante
5. Vivace
6. Poco allegretto
7. Poco lento e grazioso
8. Poco andante


approx. 23 min.

In the summer of 1894 Dvořák conceived a plan to develop the ideas in his Scottish Dances for piano from 1877 and, at the beginning of August, he wrote a sketch for a new cycle entitled “New Scottish Dances”. The musical ideas he introduced into these piano pieces, however, were so diverse that they ultimately had little in common with the dance genre, essentially sharing only its basic characteristic: a 2/4 time signature and regular eight-bar period. The composer thus decided to abandon his original title and renamed the whole cycle Humoresques. This title should not be taken too literally; the individual parts of the cycle represent a bright palette of moods, from cheerful and dance-like, to dreamily melancholic. The majority are based on musical motifs taken from the composer’s American sketchbooks, where he had jotted down ideas as they occurred to him during his time in the United States. For instance, Dvořák had made a note in New York on New Year’s Eve 1893 relating to the theme for the first Humoresque, describing it as a “marcia funebre”, and it also occurs in a permutation in the first few bars of the introduction to the New World Symphony. In Humoresque No. 6 Dvořák used a melody he originally noted down in his sketchbook as “people singing on the streets of New York on New Year’s Eve”. The second theme of Humoresque No. 4 is even a modification of the main theme from the orchestral nocturne May Night, a composition he had written more than twenty years earlier. Most of the themes appearing here are typical for Dvořák’s American period: the pentatonic character of the thematic material, syncopated rhythms, and the lowered (minor) seventh in the minor scale.

By far the most popular part of the cycle is Humoresque No. 7 in G flat major, one of the most famous classical evergreens which, over the years, has seen numerous arrangements for various instruments and ensembles, all written with varying degrees of success. Tradition has it that Dvořák wrote it while travelling on a train – he was said to have been inspired by the rhythm of the wheels on the track – but this is only a myth. The characteristic lilting rhythm of the main theme is not used here for the first time; it appeared in his music previously, particularly in his String Quintet in E flat major. The surviving sketch moreover shows that the initial idea was not related to the rhythm at all, but concerned the melodic outline instead which, only in the piece’s final version, acquired the familiar rhythmical pattern we know today.