Four Romantic Pieces - Antonin Dvorák

(Born September 8, 1841 in Nelahozeves; died May 1, 1904, in Prague)


Dvorák’s father, a village innkeeper and butcher who hoped his son would join his trade, would have been astonished that his son, in his maturity, became an internationally renowned composer and director of a music school in New York City.  The young man began studying music when he took violin lessons from a local schoolteacher; at sixteen, he left home to study in Prague.  Five years later, he joined the orchestra of the National Theater, playing the viola (an instrument that in his time was designated the instrument of failed violinists).   Soon thereafter he began to test his creative powers with extended compositions in the classical forms.  Until he was more than thirty years old, he was unknown as a composer outside of the little circle of musicians in Prague who were his friends.  Then, in 1875, his talent came to the attention of Brahms, who helped launch him in his career by procuring a generous grant for him from the Austrian Imperial government in Vienna and recommending him to his publisher in Berlin.

Dvorák did not even own a piano when he received the grant, but the happy freedom to concentrate on creative work that the money brought him resulted in the first fine works of his early maturity.  Chamber music occupied an important place in Dvorák’s life; many of his earliest works were quartets and quintets, modeled after those of Beethoven and Schubert that he played with his colleagues while developing his craft.

In January, l887, Dvorák composed a string trio that was intended as a simple piece for his private amusement, a set of bagatelles to be played by a group including an unskilled amateur violinist.  In the course of his work, the trio somehow outgrew its limits, so he sat down and wrote another, and converted the now outsized original one a few weeks later into the Four Romantic Pieces.

Each of the four pieces for violin and piano is aptly described by the title it bears.  Each can be understood as a free-standing charming miniature. Today the pieces are often not performed as a series but rather as single free-standing pieces: l. Cavatina, Allegro moderato; 2. Capriccio, Allegro maestoso; 3. Romance, Allegro appassionato; and 4. Elegy, Larghetto.