Dvorak – Cello Concerto in B minor Op. 104

Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op 104 (1895)

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio ma non troppo
  3. Finale: Allegro moderato

The three years from 1892 that Dvořák lived in Manhattan with his young family produced some of his most famous works. Shortly after arriving in New York, Dvořák had heard Victor Herbert’s second cello concerto performed by the composer and the New York Philharmonic. This showed that it was possible to combine the cello and a full symphony orchestra without compromising either the audibility of the cello or the sonority of the orchestra. (Thanks to Dvořák’s masterful use of the woodwind to achieve this balance, Brahms later famously remarked “Why on earth didn’t I know that one could write a cello concerto like this? If I had only known, I would have written one long ago.”)

Unlike his other American compositions such as the New World Symphony the Cello Concerto does not embody Dvořák’s newly created American idiom, but rather reflects his yearning for his Bohemian homeland. As director of the National Conservatory of Music, Dvořák earned 25 times his previous salary, but this could not compensate for the homesickness he felt for his native Bohemia. He returned to Prague in 1895 just after completing the Cello Concerto, which is also a requiem for his beloved sister-in-law Josefina Kounicova-Cermakova. In the second movement the cello quotes the song Leave Me Alone that he had previously written for her. After returning to Prague, Dvořák learnt of her death and inserted in the coda of the last movement a hauntingly beautiful pianissimo tribute to his beloved.

This, the most popular of all cello concertos, premiered in London in March 1896. Although Dvořák was in attendance, he had threatened to boycott the performance in protest at the choice of soloist, one Leo Stern, in place of the work’s dedicatee, Dvořák’s friend Hanus Wihan.

Performed: July 2004, March 2017

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