Te Deum, op. 103, B176
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
25 June - 28 July 1892
Premiere - date and place
21 October 1892, New York
soloists: Clementine de Vere, Emil Fischer, Metropol Orchestra, conductor Antonin Dvorak
Simrock, 1896, Berlin
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, organ, violins, violas, cellos, double basses + mixed choir + soloists (soprano and bass)
Parts / movements
1. Allegro moderato, maestoso (att.)
2. Lento maestoso (att.)
3. Vivace (att.)
approx. 21 min.
Three months before Dvorak’s departure for the United States, the president of New York’s National Conservatory of Music, Jeannette Thurber, asked the composer to write a new work. She requested a cantata with which Dvorak would introduce himself to American audiences and which would also be suitable for performance during the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America in October 1892. She promised to send an appropriate English text for the cantata forthwith. However, the departure date was fast approaching and no text had materialised, so Dvorak decided to write his cantata to a text that had been recommended to him as an alternative, a Latin liturgical hymn in celebration of God, Te Deum laudamus. (It was only later, when the composer was already working on his cantata, that he received the text that was originally pledged – the poem The American Flag by American poet Joseph Rodman Drake. Dvorak later set this poem to music as well).
The cantata for mixed choir, orchestra and two solo voices (soprano and bass) is ceremonial, uplifting and joyful in character, and its four parts follow the formal arrangement of a classical symphony. The work is unified through quotations of several of the main themes in all four parts, and the musical ideas at the close of the work thematically draw on those from the introductory part. While the text is religious, Dvorak treats it in a highly “secular” manner, using a number of approaches which are decidedly unusual in sacred music (for example, the almost barbarian entry of the solo timpani in the introduction). One of the most spectacular of Dvorak’s works, the Te Deum heralds the beginning of the composer’s American period, even though the entire piece was written on Czech soil. Seemingly, Dvorak deliberately sought some kind of “American” stylisation, at least to the extent afforded by his limited knowledge of American musical culture at that time. We will notice this particularly in the third movement, whose striking rhythmical theme set to an ostinato accompaniment shares traits with Indian folklore, which Dvorak would have experienced in Prague in 1879 during a performance by a group of Iroquois Indians.
premiere and subsequent performances
The work’s premiere was held at New York’s Carnegie Hall on 21 October 1892, involving a 250-strong choir conducted by Dvorak himself. The first Czech performance took place in Olomouc on 23 and 24 April 1898, also with Dvorak conducting. The piece wasn’t published until 1896, by Simrock in Berlin. That same year Te Deum was presented in England to critical acclaim, with a London performance on 3 December 1896 conducted by George Henschel.