String Quartet No. 9 in D minor, Op. 34, B75
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
completed 18 December 1877 (revision: 1879 (?))
Premiere - date and place
(?) 14 December 1881, Terst
(?) Quartetto Heller (Giulio Heller, Alberto Castelli, Carlo Coronini, Carlo Piacezzi)
Schlesinger (Robert Lienau), 1880, Berlin
Parts / movements
2. Alla polka. Allegreto scherzando
4. Poco Allegro
approx. 34 min.
Dvořák wrote his String Quartet in D minor in December 1877 within the space of twelve days. In its prevailing wistfulness, the work introduces traces of the evocative mood of his previous composition, the final version of the oratorio Stabat mater. At the time he was finishing the quartet, Dvořák received a letter from Johannes Brahms, in which the famous Maestro writes favourably about his Moravian Duets and informs Dvořák that he had recommended them for publication with his Berlin publisher Simrock. In a gesture of gratitude, Dvořák pledged to dedicate the Quartet in D minor to Brahms. Brahms was honoured to receive this dedication and decided to recommend this work together with the previous Quartet in E major to Simrock as well. The latter, however, was not interested in the works, thus the Quartet in D minor was published at a later date by Schlesinger. Brahms also recommended that Dvořák take another careful look through the score and remove any minor inaccuracies. Dvořák acted upon this suggestion, as we learn from his letter to Brahms dated 15 October 1879:
“During your last visit to Prague, you very kindly pointed out several places in my compositions and I must now express my gratitude to you for so doing, since I have now seen a great many bad notes, which I have replaced with better ones. I found it necessary to change numerous things in the Quartet in D minor, since you kindly agreed to allow me to dedicate the work to you; it was therefore my solemn duty to dedicate to so famous a maestro a work which fulfils, if not all, at least (please excuse my immodesty) many of the main conditions we may impose upon a work of music.”
The String Quartet in D minor is characteristic for its melancholic, even dream-like atmosphere, its spiritual intimacy and refined elegance. It is one of only a few of Dvořák’s cyclical works which begin and end in a minor key. Both outer movements in sonata form consist of clearly profiled thematic material which is masterfully treated in terms of both the music’s evolution and its contrapuntal ideas. Both movements have in common a brief development section and a well-structured coda. The final movement which, in Dvořák’s case, usually brings an opportunity to brighten the mood, has in this case – despite its marked rhythms – a more sombre tone and a strange sense of inner disquiet. The scherzo is typical of the atmosphere of the work in general: although it is a stylisation of the Czech folk dance polka, the music does not come across as carefree or jubilant, but is more reminiscent of some of Smetana’s melancholic piano polkas. The third movement in slow tempo, oscillating between D major and B minor, is one of the most compelling expressions of Dvořák’s lyricism.