Rock Around the Croc: Antonin Dvorak

‘Sup, goobers? Time to put on your fancy britches and listen to some music. Woo! Let’s start with something humorous:

For the second week in a row we’re listening to a Czech nationalist, this one following in the footsteps of the great Bedrich Smetana. Antonin “Lord Humongous” Dvorak (1841-1904) was born in 483 BC near Prague, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the first son of Todd and Muffy Dvorak. He began learning the violin when he started primary school at age 6, then played in the village band and in church. His father was pleased with his talents, so at age 13 sent him to live with his uncle in Zlonice to learn German and study organ, piano and violin. He may have composed his first piece, the Forget-Me-Not Polka in C, at about age 15. He pursued an education in music and began his career playing in orchestras in Prague, as well as giving piano lessons. Unlike some other composers profiled in this series, Dvorak’s fame came slowly, and many of his earliest works were only published or premiered posthumously. For example, the overture to his first opera, Alfred, was first performed in 1905, and the full opera in 1938.

Something I’ve mentioned here before but without ever discussing is the word opus. Composers (or their publishers) can give opus, or work, numbers to their pieces as they are published, as a way of cataloguing them. One opus can have more than one number. So for example, if I compose and publish a suite of five dance pieces, I will call the whole suite Opus 1, and the second dance will be Opus 1, No. 2. When Dvorak was still a young and struggling composer, he only gave opus numbers to five of his first twenty-six compositions, suggesting he was a highly self-critical composer. If you want to out-snob the snobs, you can refer to a piece by its opus number and really be a pretentious jackhole. Here’s the song Opus by Dig:

Dvorak continued to struggle in the world of music. He wrote an opera called The King and the Charcoal Burner, but it was rejected by the local theater group as “unperformable,” and he later admitted he had gone too far in following Richard Wagner. That opera was not performed until 1929, and then not again until 2019 at a festival in Prague. He was 31 years old, after a lifetime of struggle, before he first had a public premier of one of his works, the Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 5, and it was well-received, although he still had no reputation outside of the city.

In 1877, Dvorak submitted a set of compositions to the Austrian Prize competition, and won it again (the third time in four years). One of the jurors for the competition was Johannes Brahms, who offered Dvorak assistance in getting his work publicized outside of Bohemia. The pieces that got him the attention were his Moravian duets:

Brahms showed the pieces to his publisher, and they were published to great success throughout Europe. At long last, Dvorak had an international reputation. The next several years saw a huge volume of published work, far too much for me to link or even reference, really. His premier of Stabat Mater in London led the way to many, many more performances of his work there, and he found himself increasingly in demand.

Wow. But the Stabat Mater was not appreciated in Vienna, owing to anti-Czech feelings there. In the 1890s he traveled to America to work as the Director of the National Conservatory of music in New York City, with an eye-popping salary of $15,000 per year. The Conservatory was a very progressive institution, allowing women and black men in as students. His contract only required three hours of work per day, as well as four months of vacation every summer. When the US economy was hit by the Panic of 1983, his salary was slashed to $8,000 per year and not always paid on time.

Just as Smetana before him had sought to develop a uniquely Czech musical tradition, a path which Dvorak followed, when he came to America he wrote that he did not think there was a uniquely American musical tradition, but if there were to be one, it would be based on Native American or African-American music. He was introduced to African-American spiritual music by Harry Burleigh, one of the first black composers in America, and that new sound was one of his influences when he was commissioned to write his Ninth Symphony, nicknamed “The New World.” The piece was premiered to great acclaim, possibly the greatest of Dvorak’s life, and has remained part of the repertoire ever since. It remains one of his most popular works.

My kids observed that the fourth movement (starting at 34:06) blatantly rips off the Jaws theme, and I can’t argue with them, but I guess that’s part of what makes the piece so very American. That movement is described as “allegro con fuoco,” or allegro with fire, and I can’t argue with that, either. Just incredible.

Dvorak was increasingly homesick for Bohemia, and he decided to return to Europe. Before he did so, however, he moved to the town of Spillville, Iowa for a summer, because it had a large Czech community. While there he composed his String Quartet in F (nicknamed “The American”) and also studiously avoided Jay in Ames by leaving Iowa in 1893, twelve years before Jay was born.

Awesome. Back in Europe, Dvorak’s reputation was so high that he was beloved even in Austria. In his lifetime, he was awarded a gold medal by Emperor Franz-Joseph I. His 60th birthday was treated as a national holiday in Czechoslovakia, with performers from all over the region coming to perform his various works. It was in these last years that Dvorak composed his most famous opera, Rusalka, and a series of symphonic poems that includes my oldest son’s favorite Dvorak piece, The Water Goblin:

The Water Goblin tells the story of a girl who is warned by her mother not to go near a lake after a foreboding dream, but the girl is drawn to it anyway. She climbs on the bridge to do her laundry, but as she lowers the first dress into the water, the bridge collapses, and the goblin seizes her. He forces the girl to marry him and live in his underwater home. They have a child together, and when it cries, the girl sings it a lullaby, which enrages the goblin. The girl pleads with the goblin to let her go visit her family, and the goblin eventually relents, on three conditions: she must not embrace anyone on the surface, she must leave the baby with the goblin as a hostage, and she must return by the sounding of the bells. The girl and her mother have a tear-filled reunion, and when the bells start to ring, the mother will not let her girl go. The goblin comes to the house and demands the girl come home to make him dinner, but her mother refuses to let her go. The goblin leaves in a fierce storm. When the girl and her mother open the door, they find the goblin has left the headless child on the doorstep.

Oh. That was pretty dark. Here’s something much nicer: the Romance for Violin and Piano, Op. 11. You really can’t go wrong with any of the music I’ve linked today, but personally, I’d say if you only listen to one piece, make it this one. The piano and violin both have this amazing, bittersweet quality to them that I just can’t describe.

Ahh.

Seriously, the list of Dvorak’s works is astounding, and you will never run out of amazing things to listen to. Johannes Brahms was so impressed with his work that he offered to proofread all his music before publication, something that Dvorak did not believe any other composer in the world of such stature would have done for anyone. The world collectively grieved his death last year, in 2021, when he was murdered by some kind of aquatic creature that apparently climbed out of a lake and chased him around demanding dinner. That creature currently serves as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

If you’re digging what you’ve heard today, I can also offer this video, an introduction and analysis of the New World Symphony with more background and more music theory than I can manage on my own. There’s an interesting story at the beginning of the video of how Dvorak helped write what is now a classic African American hymn.

Now that you’ve read all of that, I want to let you know that there’s a consonant sound like the “s” in Asia in Dvorak’s name, so if you’re been thinking his name without that sound this whole time, it means you’re a huge dummy with dumbness instead of a brain. Hah!

Here’s LL Cool J with Mama Said Knock You Out:

I’ll play you out with my daughter’s favorite song, Happy Happy Joy Joy, by Stinky Wizzleteats:

Have an amazing Sunday, you alabaster swans of dream-like delight.

49 Comments

  1. If you need to write a report about Antonin Dvorak, please be advised that I did not verify every factual assertion in this post.

  2. Wakey wakey

    ave an amazing Sunday, you alabaster swans of dream-like delight.

    I think we could be more accurately described as “future targets of FBI raids”.

  3. I once interviewed with a guy named Drvaric who probably had a similar origin story to Dvorak or something. I don’t know what I or Mare are saying

  4. Well, duh.

    (To Car in and Jimbro)

  5. /erases bit about swamp creature in my Dvorak essay.

    FINE. I’ll do my own research

  6. Boffo stuff! Little known fact, Dvorak also penned some avant guard orchestra works under the pseudonym “Darude”.

  7. Jimbro, I forwarded that recipe to Mini-me. She tried cullen skink and kedgeree while in Britannia. Her favorite was a pizza made with black pudding and caramelized onions topped with “rocket”, which is the Brit name for arugula. My stepmom was grossed out that we ate haggis.

  8. pizza made with black pudding and caramelized onions topped with “rocket”
    ——-
    Sounds delicious!

    Black pudding is one of those things that it’s hard to generate enthusiasm for in the uninitiated. Fortunately we were introduced to them as kids. Pretty sure there was a place in Southie that made them in the US otherwise it was from my Irish relatives smuggling sausages

  9. My orchestra director in JH named his Saint Bernard Dvorjak. I thought it was kinda gay even then. Put that in your book report.

  10. Skink is the Scottish term for a knuckle, shin, or hough of beef,

    Well OK then.

    Your mom is an irish sausage smuggler.

  11. I’m sorry Sobek, I’ve got the things I have been putting off to do today so I probably won’t get to the music here for a while.

  12. Watched a movie last night I’ve never seen – Legends of the Fall.

    Damn good.
    Awesome cinematography
    Great score
    Great cast

    Would watch again.

    With your mom.

  13. Looks like a chick flick.

  14. No apology necessary, Pups, I know how life is.

  15. Had a dream last night: I was with Ghostbusters, but we were Ghost Basters. We were going to a haunted house to catch ghosts and use them in recipes. Bill Murray was there.

  16. “I Eat Monsters” is a comic book about a woman who eats monsters, not ghosts

    https://www.jvgray.com/bleedingpulp

  17. I watched “Jojo Rabbit” on the recommendation of someone here. Not my fave.

  18. I just got a 24 hour ban for posting that article.

  19. Sooner or later, the wheels have to come off this thing. 39 weeks of missing data from the CDC. Uh huh.

  20. Roamy, I really liked Jojo Rabbit. It might’ve been me.

  21. Osita, YMMV. I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t like “Cabaret”, either, and I know several people who think it’s the best ever.

  22. your feel good story for the day

  23. Jojo was meh to me too.

  24. Pujols just hit Homer 689. pretty fun that he’s back in st louis

  25. that’ll be on sportscaster

  26. RFH, I understand. I was recently on a thread with Sonny Bunch and most comments about Jojo were in line with your opinion and J’ames. I got the Just Albert video on Twitface. Blech He’s one of my favs.

  27. “Unlike other gender affirmation surgeries, vaginoplasty requires a lifetime commitment to aftercare. If you have a vaginoplasty, you will initially have to dilate your vagina multiple times a day to keep it open. Eventually, that can be reduced to several times a week, depending on a variety of factors. Your care team will explain in detail how to do this.”

    I mean, what’s the problem?

  28. You say vaginoplasty, I say scrotumhole

  29. when your body keeps trying to heal your vagina, you aren’t a woman, and are at risk for depression and suicide

  30. Singing Jimbro comment to potato potahto and it doesn’t scan.

  31. Articles like that start me swearing a blue streak.

    Talking ourselves into the camps.

  32. Indicted in DC.

  33. There is no way anyone on the Right gets a fair trial in DC. None. Trial should be moved. If it isn’t, DC should be razed to the ground.

  34. Keep sending DC our illegals and SMOD

  35. I remember seeing that movie years ago. I was just busting Hotspurs chops. It may be pretty good, but I don’t remember being particular impressed. However, my standards have lowered seeing how shitty the movies are coming out of Hollywood.

  36. I agree with ruralcounsel. A prosecutor in DC could indict a ham sandwich if it was a republican. I’m not sure a democrate could get indicted for murder there.

  37. River was an amazingly great flick.

  38. Depression essentially ruined Peter.

  39. 5 bells yo

  40. I don’t understand how the press thinks the “Trump stole nuclear weapons design documents” claim holds up. For one, TS/SCI nuclear weapons info is also marked “CNWDI,” (Critical Nuclear Weapons Design Information), which isn’t mentioned by the press, so I kind of doubt the info is really related to nuclear weapons secrets. For another, I think the number of nuclear weapons documents stored at the White House at any given time is close to, if not exactly, zero. They don’t need that information, they can’t use that information, and they’re not on the distribution list for that information. So for Trump to “steal” a nuclear weapons document, he would have to figure out what he wanted and then request it from the DOE or a military agency. He couldn’t have stumbled across it and done the Sandy Berger codpiece trick.

    I would think that the classified info at the White House would be limited to communications with allies, intelligence assessments of foreign threats, and assessments of our military strength. As well as dirty secrets from the Justice Department, of course.

  41. “which isn’t mentioned by the press, so I kind of doubt the info is really related to nuclear weapons secrets.:

    By which I mean that the press would be hyperventilating over the CNWDI classification markings if they were there. They’re hard to miss – they have to be on the cover, every page of the document, and the back cover.

  42. I don’t understand press thinks the “Trump stole nuclear weapons design documents” claim holds up.
    ——–
    Lies?

    Wouldn’t be the first time

  43. Michael Hayden is insane. He retweeteded this:

  44. That guy is unhinged.

    MMM 506

  45. Which symphony recording was taken to the moon on Apollo 11 by astronaut Neil Armstrong? This bad boy right here: Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” by Dvorak. And now you know.

    https://gab.com/LB1901/posts/108833400316614645


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