Hymn "The Heirs of the White Mountain" ("Dědicové Bílé hory"), Op. 30, B27, B102, B134
Burghauser catalogue number
27, 102, 134
Date of composition
original version: May (?) 1872 – 3 June 1872
revised version: 1880
final version: completed 3 May 1884
Premiere - date and place
original version: 9 March 1873, Prague
revised version: 14 March 1880, Prague
final version: 13 May 1885, London
original version: Hlahol of Prague, joined Czech and German theatre orchestras, conductor Karel Bendl
revised version: Hlahol of Prague, "Filharmonie" Orchestra, conductor Karel Knittl
final version: Geaussent's Choir, conductor Antonín Dvořák
original version: not yet published
revised version: not yet published
final version: Novello, Ewer & Co., 1885, London
Author of the text
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, timpani, violins, violas, cellos, double basses + mixed choir
approx. 17 min.
Dvořák’s decision to write a work of strong, patriotic sentiment was unquestionably influenced by the socio-political situation of the late 1860s and early 1870s. The majority of Czechs saw in the so-called Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 the frustration of the hopes they had cherished since the fall of Bach absolutism seven years previously, and the marginalisation of the rights of the Czech nation within the dualistic state. In this turbulent atmosphere Dvořák looked to the lyrico-epic poem by renowned Czech poet Vítězslav Hálek Dědicové Bílé hory (The Heirs of the White Mountain) from 1869, with its strong sense of patriotic pathos. In it the author describes the suffering of the Motherland after the Battle of White Mountain (1620), the enemies’ attempt to completely destroy her, their fight against the “company of outcasts” (i.e. representatives of the Czech people), and the final liberation of the Motherland by the Czech Spirit. The poem ends with a commemorative hymn. It is this closing hymn which provided Dvořák with the basis for his cantata for mixed choir and orchestra.
This one-movement piece could be notionally divided into two parts, the first of which is solemn in mood with gentle harmonies, and the second is festive in nature, gradually progressing towards an expression of joyful euphoria. Despite this mood development, Dvořák maintains a sense of perfect homogeneity and stylistic unity throughout the piece. The Hymn draws on Dvořák’s instrumentation skills and his ability to integrate the choir and orchestra with great conviction. One should also note his resourceful imitative treatment and the effective build-up towards the close of the work to the words “There is but one land, there is but one mother!”.
premiere and subsequent performances
The premiere of the Hymn in Prague New Town Theatre on 9 March 1873 was a turning point in the career of the 32-year-old composer. After many years of working in seclusion, this was Dvořák’s first major triumph which established him as an eminent figure of Czech music. Music critic Ludevít Procházka wrote about the premiere in Dalibor magazine: “With great pleasure I confess that it has been a long time since I was so moved by a piece of music as I was on this occasion; I was also glad to share the collective enthusiasm of the audience. [...] The whole work flows as if from a single cast – everything surges ahead in a continuous stream of truthful, expressive declamation, with vibrant orchestral colour and in opulent polyphonic form. This is authentic hymnal style, concise, grandiose; virile and heroic ideas, a dignified portrayal by the master of the new age; in short: a spirit is carried gently towards us which is woven seamlessly with Hálek’s.”
In later years Dvořák subjected the Hymn to partial revisions. For the first time in 1880 in connection with its subsequent performance, and the second time in 1884 before its publication in London by Novello. Despite its considerable merits as a piece of music, and its significance in terms of Dvořák’s musical development, the Hymn almost vanished from the concert platform. The Czech Philharmonic, for instance, has only performed the piece eleven times since the orchestra was established in 1896, most recently on 7 September 1941.