Silhouettes, Op. 8, B98

Opus number


Burghauser catalogue number


Date of composition

(1875) – October (November ?) 1879

Premiere - date and place

private performance: April 1880, Prague
public performance (three parts of the cycle): 13 October 1880, Eilenburg

Premiere performer(s)

private performance: ?
public performance (three parts of the cycle): Laura Rappoldi-Kahler

First edition

Hofmeister, 1880, Leipzig

Parts / movements

1. Allegro feroce
2. Andantino
3. Allegretto
4. Vivace
5. Presto
6. Poco sostenuto
7. Allegro
8. Allegretto
9. Allegro
10. Allegretto grazioso
11. Allegro moderato
12. Allegro feroce


approx. 20 min.

It is unclear exactly when the piano cycle Silhouettes was written. It is generally thought to have originated during the last four months of 1879, when Dvořák was putting the final touches to the cycle and arranging the individual parts into a planned sequence. The composer’s autograph scores, however, tell us that, at the very least, some of the parts were written much earlier, perhaps even back in 1875, as also indicated in a report published in Dalibor magazine on 29 May of that year, which mentions Dvořák’s new “interesting cycle of characteristic little pieces for piano”. Moreover, a number of its musical themes echo those from three major works the composer had already written by 1865: on the one hand from the composer’s first two symphonies, and also from the song cycle CypressesSilhouettes originally contained reminiscences of other works by Dvořák: the original version of No. 5 was thematically derived from his String Quartet in F minor, and No. 7 was based on the nocturne “May Night”. In the end, however, Dvořák eliminated both these parts from the autograph and did not submit them for publication. (No. 7, which Dvořák left out, was finally published in 1955 as part of a collected critical edition of the composer’s works; No. 5 has yet to be published).

Silhouettes is a series of charming miniatures for the piano which, in their poetic style, could be seen as a less challenging variant of the cycle Poetic Tone Pictures. The basic musical idea of the entire cycle is the main theme from Dvořák’s Symphony No. 1. It features in three of the Silhouettes, Nos. 1, 5 and 12. Dvořák also used the scherzo theme from the same symphony, which appears in No. 8, and a theme from the final movement, which was incorporated into No. 9. Dvořák used the scherzo from his Symphony No. 2 for No. 11, and a motif from the final movement for No. 6. Silhouettes Nos. 1 and 5 also adopt some of the thematic material from the song cycle Cypresses. Silhouettes was published in 1880 by Hofmeister in Leipzig, attributed a low opus number (8) which doesn’t correspond to the actual number at that point in Dvořák’s career. The series of twelve piano miniatures satisfied the period requirement for technically straightforward, short piano pieces aimed at amateur pianists. They were later arranged for four-hand piano by German composer Theodor Kirchner.