At a Glance
Raised in a small Bohemian village outside Prague, Antonín Dvořák came from neither a wealthy family nor a particularly musical one. His eventual rise to international stardom as a composer is one of music history's more unlikely success stories. The turning point came in 1877, when he came to the attention of Johannes Brahms, who was so taken with Dvořák's music that he arranged for it to be published in Berlin. Soon, after the spectacular success of the Slavonic Dances—which caused "a positive assault on the sheet-music shops"—Dvořák was a star, with more commissions and performance opportunities coming his way than he could possibly handle.
The three works on this afternoon's program—the lively, colorful Carnival Overture, the solemn and sharply chiseled Seventh Symphony, and the yearningly beautiful, folk music-inspired Cello Concerto—date from the decade between 1885 and 1895, the height of Dvořák's international popularity and artistic achievement. By the beginning of that span, the composer was famous throughout the Habsburg Empire, had achieved massive success in England, and was endorsed by the musical elite, yet, on account of the unaffected and folk-inflected nature of his music, was still revered in his homeland as an authentic Bohemian voice. By the end of it, he was also a celebrity in the United States, having spent the years 1892-1895 in New York, where he composed—and premiered at Carnegie Hall—some of his most famous music.