Dvořák: Quartet Op. 106,
6 Cypresses, 2 Waltzes
Dvořák spent Christmas 1895 at his country home at Vysoká, just outside Prague. He was working confidently and had already completed the String Quartet in G, B.192, Op. 106, his thirteenth quartet, over a four-week period, in November and early December. He spent Christmas Day putting the final touches to yet another quartet and just five days later, this quartet, too, was finished. Dvořák had composed two of his finest quartets in less than two months. However, the ease and pleasure with which he created them came after a period when the ink had run dry.
Behind him was a second visit to the United States. Artistically, it had been a success. He could look back with pride on the new cello concerto, the New World Symphony, the American String Quartet and more. But Dvořák had felt cut off from his friends and relatives. He had been isolated from the Bohemian countryside and from a life that provided inspiration for his creativity. “Oh, if only I were home again!” the homesick Dvořák had written from New York. He and his wife returned to Bohemia for good in the spring of 1895. Once back in familiar surroundings, Dvořák resumed his former ambition, and one of the composer’s finest string quartet movements. A busy and vigorous Scherzo follows, Mendelssohn like at times, but with a touch of country earthiness. The finale begins exuberantly but includes wistful, somewhat nostalgic music in its pages. It also brings in echoes of the opening movement before being swept along to an affirmative, joyful conclusion.
The two Waltzes, B.105, Op. 54 started life in 1879, with a request for dance music for a ball organised by the Národní Beseda, a patriotic organisation in Prague. Dvořák and other leading composers, including Smetana and Fibich, were each asked to provide a series of linked waltzes. Dvorák soon realized, however, that his waltzes were more appropriate to concert or salon performance than dancing, so he composed an altogether new set of dances for the ball called Prague Waltzes. He then re-worked the original music into a set of eight waltzes for piano and arranged the two most popular movements for strings. The first is a gently rocking and distinctly Czech waltz, with faster-paced episodes. The Allegro vivace has the character of one of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances.
© Keith Horner