String Quartet No. 7 in A minor, Op. 16, B45
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
14 (?) September - 24 September 1874 (revision: after 1894)
Premiere - date and place
private performance: 17 June 1875, Prague; public performance: 29 December 1878, Prague
private performance: Circle of Young Musicians
public performance: Bennewitz Quartet (Antonin Bennewitz, Eduard Wittich, Vilem Bauer, Bruno Wilfert)
Emanuel Stary, 1875, Prague (parts)
Bote & Bock, 1893, Berlin (score and parts)
Parts / movements
1. Allegro ma non troppo
2. Andante cantabile
3. Allegro scherzando
4. Allegro ma non troppo
approx. 29 min.
Dvorak wrote his seventh string quartet in a very short space of time in September 1874. One might think that, with this piece, he was attempting to “rectify” his previous foray into the chamber music genre, String Quartet No. 6, which he had completed less than a year earlier. He chose the same key (A minor) but he was keen to abandon the ambiguous, experimental formal conception of his earlier work, now moving back to Classical models and thus to a clear formal structure. Dvorak dedicated this quartet to music critic Ludevit Prochazka in recognition of the latter’s support of his endeavours to establish himself as a composer in public. Apart from its significance in the development of Dvorak’s chamber style, the Quartet in A minor is important for several other reasons: it was Dvorak’s first chamber piece to come out in print, published in Prague in 1875 by Emanuel Stary; and it is Dvorak’s first chamber work to be reviewed in detail by the music critics (including an analysis of the quartet by Zdenek Fibich). Moreover, this piece is one of the first chamber works by a Czech author to find a publisher.
Dvorak’s previous quartets manifest a certain discrepancy between invention and treatment thus, structurally, the individual movements on numerous occasions were allowed to grow to disproportionate lengths. In this work, however, the composer exercises remarkable sobriety supported by strict adherence to the Classical scheme. This fact is also reflected in the overall length of the composition, which does not exceed thirty minutes. This is a work with pure, flawless contours and is proof that Dvorak’s previous exploration had come to an end and he now found himself on the threshold of compositional maturity. Not only was his overall formal arrangement less complex, but he also reduced the number of themes he chose to treat: in each movement two basic ideas are usually sufficient for his requirements. While both outer movements follow the sonata-form scheme (the fourth movement deviates from the usual pattern in that it is not written in the fundamental key of A minor, but chiefly in F major and A major), both central movements constitute a three-part form with a contrasting middle section.