String Quartet No. 10 in E flat major, Op. 51, B92 "Slavonic"
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
25 December 1878 - 28 March 1879
Premiere - date and place
private performance: 29 July 1879, Berlin
public performance: 10 November 1879, Magdeburg
private performance: Joachim Quartet (Joseph Joachim, Heinrich de Ahna, Emanuel Wirth, Robert Hausmann)
public performance: ?
Simrock, 1879, Berlin
E flat major
Parts / movements
1. Allegro ma non troppo
2. Dumka (Elegia). Andante con moto
3. Romanza. Andante con moto
4. Finale. Allegro assai
approx. 31 min.
Dvorak was commissioned to write String Quartet in E flat major by violinist Jean Becker, the leader of one of Europe’s most important chamber ensembles at that time, the Florentine Quartet. After the success of the composer’s previous works inspired by the folk music of Slav nations, Becker stressed the fact that the new quartet was also to be written “in the Slav spirit”. Dvorak wanted to have the commission ready as soon as possible, but a number of external circumstances prevented him from completing it. After several interruptions to his work, the composer finally finished the quartet in March 1879. The work was published by Simrock that same year and bore a dedication to Jean Becker.
Despite the fact that this work had been commissioned, and that he had been unable to concentrate on it as fully as he would have liked, Dvorak ultimately produced one of his most original and most distinctive chamber pieces. The work brims with a sense of life contentment, joy in his hitherto success, and his self-confidence as a composer. Dvorak wholeheartedly embraced the requirement to write music with Slavic undertones: the thematic material, rhythms and harmony all betray close associations with the spirit of folk music in a decidedly stylised form. Both outer movements are written in sonata form with slight deviations from traditional approaches (e.g. the recapitulation in the first movement does not begin with the first, but with the second subject). The second movement is one of Dvorak’s finest dumkas, with which it shares the basic principle of alternating two highly contrasting themes. The third movement is marked as a “Romanza” and indeed constitutes a wonderful lyrical nocturne of dreamy, intimate mood. The final movement is a stylisation of the “skocna”, a lively Czech folk dance. The eloquent melodies, flawless composition work and refinement rank this work as one of the finest quartets in the world repertoire.
premiere and subsequent performances
The quartet was first performed in Berlin on 29 July 1879 at a private soiree held in the composer’s honour at the home of Joseph Joachim, a brilliant violinist of his day. The first documented public performance of the work took place in Magdeburg on 10 November 1879; it is not known which quartet ensemble performed the piece. The renown of the work spread quickly and, during the first few months after its publication, it was presented in Prague, Hamburg, Vienna, Halle, Hannover, Hildesheim, Kassel and Stuttgart.