Slavonic Dances, series II, Op. 72, B147
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
November 1886 - 5 January 1887
Premiere - date and place
No. 1, 2 and 7: 6 January 1887, Prague
National Theatre Orchestra, conductor Antonin Dvorak
Simrock, 1887, Berlin
1 piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, "campanello" in A-flat² (No. 8 only), violins, violas, cellos, double basses
Parts / movements
No. 1 (9) - Molto vivace, B major (odzemek)
No. 2 (10) - Allegretto grazioso, E minor (dumka)
No. 3 (11) - Allegro, F major (skocna)
No. 4 (12) - Allegretto grazioso, D flat major (dumka)
No. 5 (13) - Poco adagio, B flat minor (spacirka)
No. 6 (14) - Moderato, quasi minuetto, B flat major (poloneza)
No. 7 (15) - Allegro vivace, C major (kolo)
No. 8 (16) - Grazioso e lento ma non troppo, quasi tempo di valse, A flat major (sousedska)
approx. 36 min.
After the commercial success of the first series of Slavonic Dances, Dvorak’s publisher Simrock was keen to publish a second series and tried for a long time to persuade the composer to write another set of dances, but the latter was reluctant. In letters to Simrock, for example, he states that “to do the same thing twice is fiendishly difficult!” But the publisher leaned on him for so long that the composer eventually capitulated and, after an interval of eight years, began writing a new series. Simrock now addressed him in quite a different tone: “The Slavonic Dances are a pure delight and I think that they will be quite different (no joke and no irony!)”. Dvorak found the task easy and worked on the pieces almost as quickly as before; within a month they were ready.
For his second series, Dvorak incorporated into his spectrum of dances a number of other types: in addition to the polka, skocna, sousedska, furiant and dumka, which he had used in his first series, he also introduced a Czech spacirka (promenade dance), a Polish polonaise, a Serbian kolo (round dance), and the odzemek, a fast male dance from the Wallachian-Slovak border region. The overall character of the music was also unlike the first series. The second series indeed reflected the level Dvorak had reached in his composition work (in the intervening period Dvorak had produced several important and mature works, such as his violin concerto, the sixth and seventh symphonies and the oratorio Saint Ludmila). Unlike the first set of eight dances, which all carry an atmosphere of joy and contentment, the second series has a much more diverse palette of moods, from the melancholic to the wild and ecstatic. The composer came up with highly idealised dance modes, as if he no longer stood in the middle of the dance floor but was observing the action from some way off. He also showed greater diversity in the structure of his themes. Some are periodic, while others are irregular. Moreover, the instrumentation of the orchestral version is more sophisticated than that of the first series. In certain dances, Dvorak decides not to use the whole orchestra and, even with the minimum of devices, he is still able to produce a stunning effect. Worth mentioning is the original way in which he brings the entire series (effectively both series) to its culmination. The sixteenth Slavonic Dance bears the heading “sousedska”, yet the music is now far removed from an actual dance – the composer presents it to his audience in a supremely stylised and highly poetic form. This is not a dance in the true sense, but more a nostalgic memory of it: Dvorak’s subtle, quiet farewell to his Slavonic Dances.