Poetic Tone Pictures (Poetické nálady), Op. 85, B161

Opus number


Burghauser catalogue number


Date of composition

16 April – 6 June 1889

Premiere - date and place

(?) Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4: 3 November 1889, Tábor
(?) Nos. 6, 11, 12 and 13: 20 November 1889, Prague

Premiere performer(s)

(?) Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4: Elsa Nedbalová
(?) Nos. 6, 11, 12 and 13: Hanuš Trneček

First edition

Simrock, 1889, Berlin

Parts / movements

1. Night Journey (Noční cestou) (Allegro moderato)
2. Joking (Žertem) (Allegretto leggiero)
3. At the Old Castle (Na starém hradě) (Lento)
4. Spring Song (Jarní) (Poco allegro)
5. Peasants' Ballad (Selská balada) (Allegro giusto)
6. Reminiscence (Vzpomínaní) (Andante)
7. Furiant (Allegro feroce)
8. Goblins' Dance (Rej skřítků) (Allegretto)
9. Serenade (Serenáda) (Moderato e molto cantabile)
10. Bacchanalia (Bakchanale) (Vivacissimo)
11. Tittle-Tattle (Na táčkách) (Andante con moto)
12. At a Tumulus (U mohyly) (Grave. Tempo di marcia)
13. At Svatá Hora (Na Svaté hoře) (Poco lento)


approx. 53 min.

Poetic Tone Pictures, with its thirteen parts together lasting over fifty minutes, is Dvořák’s longest and most elaborate piano cycle. He wrote it in the spring of 1889 in less than two months, partly in Prague and partly in his summer residence at Vysoká near Příbram, and offered it to his publisher Simrock before it was finished. The latter accepted the work and published it that same year, divided into three volumes. In so doing, the composer was responding to Simrock’s frequent requests that he write shorter piano pieces, for which there was great demand among amateur pianists. Dvořák consulted his friend, music critic Emanuel Chvála, for advice about the collective title for the whole cycle: “My dear friend! I’ve now written the 13 pieces (for piano solo) I told you about. Each piece has its own name, but I haven’t thought of a title for the whole cycle yet, so I’d like to ask your advice. I have a list of titles but I don’t know which one to choose. I’ll be coming to Prague on Sunday and I will look you up. I am anxious to know what you think of my new work.”

The end of the 1880s was a period when the composer often returned to the time of his youth, and a number of his works from that era have a nostalgic, old-worldly air about them (such as the opera The Jacobin). The cycle Poetic Tone Pictures was also written in a similar spirit. Although each part has a name, this is not programme music in the true sense, and we won’t find any specific connections outside the music, nor do the individual pieces follow a particular story line. The composer, in fact, stressed this aspect of his new work in a letter to his publisher, where he states that he was seeking to create musical poetry as Schumann would have done, even if the pieces “do not sound Schumannesque”. The individual parts of the cycle thus merely evoke a general mood, and the names are to suggest to the listener a certain scope of ideas. The thirteen parts bring a rich palette of various different moods, from the romantic and dream-like, to stylisations of a wild and furious dance. For its poetic temperament and technically rewarding piano stylisation, this is one of Dvořák’s most popular piano works.