Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), born near Prague, Czech Republic, composed in almost every genre, many of which are part of the standard repertoire today. He helped develop the recognized Czech national style along with Bedřich Smetana. He spent time visiting London between 1884 and 1896, and lived in the United States from 1892-1895, where he composed Symphony in E minor “From the New World.” Many of his more than one hundred songs and duets had texts from Czech poets. His piano works were usually character-pieces and dances, aimed at amateurs, rather than works that are more technical. Dvořák had several phases during his lifetime of composing. In his earliest music, he tried to stay close to the examples of Mozart and Beethoven and their forms. By the 1860s, he developed a “New German” style, using constantly changing short, thematic units to shape the melodic structure. He added in constant movement to distant tonal regions, and a high degree of subjective expressivity to move beyond this style. In the late 1870s, Dvořák began to use the elements of Slavonic folklore, learning from Smetana and others. His use of minor keys, and a medieval modal sound reflects this. Janáček influenced his use of the dumka. Dumky, a plural form of the Czech diminutive form of duma, was the name of a Ukrainian folk genre originating more than three centuries ago. At first, duma was a Ukrainian epic song, a psalm or lament of a captive people. By the early nineteenth-century, blind bards popularized this, and it became a nonstrophic song that recounted a large historical event. In the later nineteenth-century, composers adopted the form in classical works. The specific form was a work of contemplative character with bright sections in between.
With the Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, B. 166, Op. 90, “Dumky”, Dvořák used a non-traditional structure for a piano trio. Instead of the classical four movements or traditional sonata form, he chose a series of six dumky. Broken into two parts, the first three movements are played through without a break. The first three movements, Lento maestoso, Poco adagio, and andante begin slowly, with fast and slow sections alternating. The first movement begins in E minor and moves to C minor, while the second, Poco Adagio begins at ‘Section C’ in C# minor. On page 18 at ‘Section K’, the third movement begins in A major, moves to A minor at ‘L’, then returns to A major again at andante. The fourth movement also moves in the same manner, with arpeggiated chords, but from D minor to F major and back to D minor. The sixth movement begins in C minor on page 39. By ‘Section Z’, the tonal center is moving to C major, and the entire movement does a surprising ending on C major.
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I decided to compare this piano trio to the one by Glinka from the early Romantic period, Trio Path'étique in d minor for Clarinet, Bassoon, & Piano. Glinka’s piano trio, although it used non-traditional instruments, still followed the form laid out as classical, unlike Dvořák’s, which used the three most traditional instruments, but followed a form entirely out of the classical format by using the dumky model. The two however, both used a through composed manner with the first three movements of each of their pieces. The through composition of those movements appear to be the only similarities, as Dvořák’s piece had a much thicker texture than Glinka’s as well.
Dvořák is a fascinating composer to follow. I had not realized that he spent considerable time visiting London before he came to the United States. So much is heard about his experiences in the US and how he influenced a sort of American nationalism, that much of his other work is ignored.
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IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library. Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor ("Dumky"), B. 166 (Op. 90).
Keller, James. Chamber Music: A Listener’s Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Reel, James. Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor ("Dumky"), B. 166 (Op. 90). AllMusic.com, 2014. Web site. http://www.allmusic.com/composition/piano-trio-no-4-in-e-minor-dumky-b-166-op-90-mc0002369772
Smaczny, Jan. "Dvořák, Antonín." The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 16, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t114/e2154.