String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, B19

Opus number

Burghauser catalogue number


Date of composition

December 1870 (?)

Premiere - date and place

8 October 1990, Prague

Premiere performer(s)

Martinů Quartet

First edition

Editio Supraphon, 1968, Prague

Main key

E minor

Parts / movements

1. Velmi pohyblivě a rázně (Assai con moto ed energico)
2. Andante religioso
(3. Allegro con brio)


approx. 33 min.

Of the three stylistically related string quartets written sometime during the years 1869–1870, this quartet is chronologically the last in the series. According to the partial dating of the individual parts, one may assume that it probably appeared at the end of the year 1870. As in the case of the two previous quartets, only the individual parts survived, this time at least copied in the composer’s own hand. The parts were discovered at the beginning of the 20th century in the possession of violinist and director of the Prague Conservatoire, Antonín Bennewitz. The late 1860s and early 1870s was a period in which, after the initial stage of his musical career, Dvořák moved away from Classical models to concentrate fully on the works of the German Neo-Romantics, Wagner and Liszt. The Quartet in E minor is the culmination of Dvořák’s quest for innovation, and resembles something of a musical experiment which is unprecedented in Dvořák’s oeuvre; here, in many respects, the composer transcended subsequent development in European music. Musicologist Hartmut Schick, who studied Dvořák’s quartets in detail, even finds parallels between this quartet and the music of Schoenberg, Debussy and Stravinsky. The work has three movements, of which only the middle movement bears clear traces of the composer’s future distinctive style. The outer movements contain music which is agitated, even wild in places, with irregular harmonies and a host of highly original compositional ideas. Dvořák later used the second movement of the quartet as the basis for the free movement of his String Quintet in G major, which he then arranged independently as Nocturne, Op. 40. The quartet was was first performed in public in 1990.