Slavonic Rhapsodies, Op. 45, B86
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
No. 1: 13 February - 17 March 1878
No. 2: 20 August - 18 September 1878
No. 3: 19(?) September - 3 December 1878
Premiere - date and place
Nos. 1 and 2: 17 November 1878, Prague
No. 3: 24 September 1879, Berlin
Nos. 1 and 2: Provisional Theatre Orchestra, conductor Antonin Dvorak
No. 3: Königlichen Kapelle, conductor Wilhelm Taubert
Simrock, 1879, Berlin
No. 1: 1 piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, violins, violas, cellos, double basses
No. 2: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, harp, violins, violas, cellos, double basses
No. 3: 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, harp, violins, violas, cellos, double basses
Parts / movements
Slavonic Rhapsody No. 1 in D major
Slavonic Rhapsody No. 2 in g minor
Slavonic Rhapsody No. 3 in A flat major
approx. 40 min. (No. 1: approx. 13 min., No. 2: approx. 13 min., No. 3: approx. 14 min.)
composition history and general characteristics
Several years following his Rhapsody in A minor, in 1878 Dvorak decided to write a set of three pieces in the same genre. Encouraged by the success of his Moravian Duets, the composer endeavoured to introduce a characteristic folkloric tone into his music, as he did for his first series of Slavonic Dances, which appeared during the same period. The rhapsody is an extremely loose form and does not adhere to any classical scheme, leaving it up to the listener to decide what associations the music brings to mind. This also applies in an almost literal sense in the case of Dvorak’s Rhapsodies. They are not governed by any specific programme and their inspiration stems from the music alone. Dvorak conceived his Slavonic Rhapsodies as a cycle of three works that share evocations of the folk temperament yet, at the same time, each of them has its unique character, thus creating a distinctive counter-balance to the other two. While the first rhapsody is steeped in an idyllic, pastoral atmosphere, the second rhapsody is dramatic in tone, and the third is positive in mood, expressing the joys of life.
Slavonic Rhapsody No. 1 in D major is written in rondo form, A-B-A-B-A. The first theme (A) is a broadly arching pastoral melody, followed by a somewhat more lively syncopated motif (B). The piece reaches its climax in the middle section, in which both themes are interwoven contrapuntally in a kind of jubilant paean to nature.
Slavonic Rhapsody No. 2 in G minor is more complex in nature, its unified expression stemming chiefly from the highly rhythmical chromatic main theme. Its sense of defiance is balanced by the secondary theme which introduces an atmosphere of dignified solemnity into the work. In comparison with the first rhapsody, the music here is more dramatic, its harmonic development more elaborate, and the piece gradually steps up the pace until it reaches its theatrical coda.
In its variety, Slavonic Rhapsody No. 3 in A flat major is to a certain degree reminiscent of the composer’s Symphony No. 8 in G major. The piece consists of a colourful mosaic of different moods, while its prevailing mood is joyful and optimistic. The work opens with the main theme in the solo harp, thus emphasising its rhapsodic, narrative character. The composition treats three principal themes which appear variously in different guises. The overall impression of the work is somewhat marred by the addition of “false” endings, which are followed by further contrasting passages.
premiere and subsequent performances
The first two Slavonic Rhapsodies were premiered by Dvorak himself at his first independent concert, where he introduced himself to the Prague public as both a composer and conductor on 17 November 1878. The third Slavonic Rhapsody was first performed in Berlin on 24 September 1879 by conductor Wilhelm Taubert. Within two years, the Rhapsodies were presented in various cities – Berlin, Dresden, Karlsruhe, Wiesbaden, Budapest, Leipzig, Cologne, London, Nice, and New York, among others. In the large majority of cases, they were performed separately, not as a series. Despite the fact that, during Dvorak’s lifetime, the Slavonic Rhapsodies numbered among his most frequently performed works which, moreover, contributed significantly to his early success outside his native country, they appear only rarely on the concert platform today.