Dvorák was born in a small Bohemian village, where his father was the local butcher and innkeeper and also played the zither. As a young man, Dvorák’s musical career involved him in all manner of music-making in Prague; he accompanied church services from the organ, played viola in a dance band and the local opera orchestra, taught piano lessons, and kept up his composing on the side.
One work from these journeyman years was a string quartet in E minor, which Dvorák eventually suppressed. He did return to the slow movement, reusing that andante religioso music in 1875 as part of a G-major string quintet, although he later replaced it with new material. In the meantime, Dvorák’s career took off after he caught the attention of Brahms, who convinced his own publisher Simrock to sign the young Bohemian composer. Simrock’s 1878 publication of Slavonic Dances put Dvorák in the international spotlight and before long he was publishing new and old music at a rapid clip.
Dvorák developed that same early slow movement into a stand-alone Nocturne, preparing a version for string orchestra as well as a reduction for violin and piano, both published by Simrock in 1883. The updated title fits the music well, calling to mind Classical simplicity and nighttime calm. A simple octave introduction (newly added for this final version) prepares the winding violin melody, floating over a suspended pedal tone and rolling middle layer of accompaniment. The pregnant anticipation stretches out, unbroken, until it finally releases into a more active central section. The ending balances the arch-like form with stable resolution, basking in the luminosity of B major.
Aaron Grad ©2011
About This Program
The SPCO brings core chamber music repertoire to the historic Turf Club, a mainstay of the Twin Cities music scene, located in Saint Paul’s Midway neighborhood. Dvořák’s Bass Quintet (known as such because of the unusual addition of the double bass to the standard string quartet of two violins, viola and cello) was written in 1875 at a very productive and happy time for the young composer. It earned him top prize in the Prague based Artistic Circle Competition.
Ticket price is $20 and includes a drink of your choice (wine, beer, cocktail or non-alcoholic beverage). Turf Club’s American pub fare will be available for purchase before and after the performance.