Violin Concerto in A Minor

Antonín Dvořák

Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

Date of Composition: 1879
Duration: 31 minutes

Bohemian composer Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) was born near Prague, where he received much of his musical training. His first jobs were playing in Czech dance bands and theatre orchestras. On the side, he wrote music, eventually turning to composition as a primary pursuit. At the time, nationalistic pride was growing throughout Europe, and by the late 1870s, Dvořák began incorporating Slavic musical styles into his compositions, resulting in works with titles such as Moravian Duets and Slavonic Dances.

In 1879, one of the leading violinists of the time, Joseph Joachim, heard a Dvořák string quartet and went on to champion the composer’s chamber music. In return, Dvořák composed his Violin Concerto in A Minor for Joachim. As was his usual practice, he sent the violin part to the virtuoso for comments. Joachim had reservations about the work and took his time responding, but eventually offered multiple sets of suggestions. In 1882, Dvořák wrote a letter to his publisher proclaiming, “I played the violin concerto [in a reading] with Joachim twice. He liked it very much, and Mr. Keller, who was present as well, was delighted with it. I was very glad that the matter has finally been sorted out.” In the end, however, Joachim never fully embraced the composition. He bowed out of a hoped-for Berlin premiere. Thus, Dvořák’s concerto was not revealed to the public until 1883, when František Ondříček served as violin soloist at the Prague National Theatre. The concerto is a real performer showcase. Czech idioms simmer below the surface in the rhapsodic first movement, which segues immediately into the dramatic second. The finale then fully reveals the composer’s nationalistic tendencies in its combination of an introspective Czech dumka and a furiant-like dance theme.

© Dr. K. Dawn Grapes, 2023