Spotlight on Great Classical Composers: Dvořák


If you are with us in The Glasshouse, you would have noticed that this Spotlight series here on Chamber Music and Arts Singapore’s blog ~ runs exactly two months behind our #origins stories from within The Glasshouse ~!   

Like this Spotlight series, #origins focuses on one remarkable creative master each month.  These illustrated and lightly animated stories from within The Glasshouse are fitted with voiceovers by CMAS’ own children’s theatre artist Cheryl Kjm !  They are also accompanied by bespoke Activity and Canvas sheets, so you and your children can try your hand at expressive artworks and more ~!

Within this Spotlight series for this month, we take a closer look at Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) ~ the first Bohemian composer to achieve international recognition.

Born in a small Bohemian village just north of Prague as the first of nine children, little Dvořák learnt singing and the violin at a young age from his school teacher.  At 12, he moved to Zlonice to live with his aunt and uncle, and began studying harmony and learning to play the piano and organ there.  It was also during his three years in Zlonice when he wrote his first pieces of music, which included polkas, a lively Bohemian folk dance !

In 1857, Dvořák’s father was encouraged to allow him to pursue a professional career in music.  So off Dvořák went ~! to the capital city of Prague, to study the organ.  After completing a two-year course, he began to live and work independently – playing the viola in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra, working as a church organist and giving piano lessons to support himself.  Through these years of little acknowledgement, when his works remained mostly unheard, Dvořák continued to compose and to create.

It was only from the mid 1870s when Dvořák’s life began to take a turn.  He first won the Austrian State Prize in 1874 after submitting a set of 15 of his works.  Then went on to win this same prize again in 1876 and 1877. 

Through his endeavours for the Austrian State Prize, Dvořák got acquainted with Johannes Brahms who sat on the panel of this award.  Impressed by his works, Brahms made himself known to Dvořák and introduced him to his publisher in Berlin, Simrock ~ whose publication of Dvořák’s first set of eight Slavonic Dances brought him immediate international fame.

Brahms and Dvořák became lifelong friends ~ with Brahms providing continuous guidance and support for Dvořák.  Even carrying out the tedious task of proof reading his works when Dvořák was away in America, tending to his work as Director and composition teacher at the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York.

During his years in this new world, Dvořák was intent on discovering ‘American’ music.  He advocated for the development of classical music in America to be based off of African American spirituals and Native American music – believing these to be a fertile ground on which progress could be made.

Inspired by the traditional musics of this land and his spacious visual experiences of Iowa, Dvořák’s most famous works including his Symphony No. 9 and String Quartet ‘The American’ were all created during his years in America.

A passionate composer and educator whose music founded upon traditional sounds was able to reach international fame and win the hearts of many across national boundaries, there is truly much to share about Dvořák.

Join us now in The Glasshouse to uncover further stories about Dvořák !

We hope to see you in The Glasshouse, and stay tuned for our next Spotlight on Great Classical Composers coming to you in May !