Piano Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 23, B53
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
24 May – 10 June 1875
Premiere - date and place
16 December 1880, Prague
Václav Kopta, Petr Mareš, Alois Neruda, Karel Slavkovský
Schlesinger (Robert Lienau), 1880, Berlin
Parts / movements
1. Allegro moderato
3. Finale. Allegretto scherzando
approx 35 min.
composition history, premiere and publication
The Piano Quartet in D major, completed in a mere eighteen days, is part of a group of works appearing in the first half of 1875 which now fully established the composer’s distinctive compositional style (including the first series of Moravian Duets, the Piano Trio in B flat major and the Serenade in E major). This was also an unusually productive time in Dvořák’s career, since he had been granted a state scholarship for the first time in January of that year, and was thus able to focus solely on his work without worrying about financial concerns. The quartet had to wait more than five years for its premiere, which was held in Prague in December 1880 at a concert organised by the artists’ association Umělecká beseda. In February of the following year the work was performed for the first time outside the country, in Amsterdam, through the enterprising endeavours of violinist Jean Becker, founder of the famous Florentine Quartet. Thanks to Becker, the quartet soon found its way to other cities (Leiden, Deventer, Mannheim, Graz). The quartet was published in the year of its premiere, 1880, by Berlin-based firm Schlesinger.
The Piano Quartet in D major is Dvořák’s last attempt to write a traditional sonata cycle of three movements; in the final movement he combines the scherzo with the finale. The scherzo section is substituted with a main subject in three-eight time which has a quasi-waltz feel to it; the final movement is represented by the second subject in 4/4 time. The remaining two movements deviate very little from traditional schemes. The first is written in sonata form, with two main subjects and complex modulations in the development section. The second movement is a set of variations: The theme is heard in its elemental form, apparently a prefiguration of Dvořák’s later dumkas, after which follow five variations – distinct in terms of rhythm and instrumental stylisation rather than overall mood – and then the coda. This is one of Dvořák’s most enchanting variational movements.