Terzetto in C major for Two Violins and Viola, Op. 74, B148
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
7 January – 14 January 1887
Premiere - date and place
private performance: 27 January 1887, Prague
public performance: 30 March 1887, Prague
private performance: ?
public performance: Karel Ondříček, Jan Buchal, Jaroslav Šťastný
Simrock, 1887, Berlin
Parts / movements
1. Introduzione. Allegro ma non troppo
3. Scherzo. Vivace
4. Tema con variazioni. Poco adagio
approx. 18 min.
The Terzetto in C major for Two Violins and Viola was written as an occasional piece. The composer’s mother-in-law Klotilda Čermáková had rented part of her flat (in the same house where the Dvořáks lived) to a chemistry student named Josef Kruis, who was also taking private violin lessons with Jan Pelikán, a member of the National Theatre Orchestra. Dvořák sometimes played the viola with them and one day came up with the idea to write a new piece for their small ensemble. He wrote the Terzetto in C major over a period of seven days in January 1887. At that time, Dvořák was as yet unaware of Kruis’s violin skills and the piece ultimately proved too difficult for him. (Dvořák thus immediately set about writing another piece, Miniatures, which did not require such a high level of technical proficiency.)
Despite its original purpose, the Terzetto in C major can still be regarded as an important part of the chamber repertoire and a valuable contribution to the collection of works intended for this fairly unusual combination of instruments. Dvořák compensated for the absence of the cello with an inventive viola part which fulfilled the role of the bass line. The work may be described as a traditional cyclical form in four movements, except that the first movement is not in sonata form, but rather sets the mood for what is to come. Accordingly, the movement is marked “Introduzione” and glides naturally into the second movement. The latter follows a three-part scheme with leisurely outer parts and a more rhythmical middle section. The third movement is a traditional scherzo with dance-like motifs in the outer segments and a lyrical trio which is thematically related to the main theme. The final movement incorporates a sequence of ten variations on an original theme.