Known as one of the most musically demanding pieces for solo cello, Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor still manages to challenge cellists of all ages still today. Written during the late Romantic era, this cello concerto has hints of Dvorak’s musical models throughout, including Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert. The piece fits in the late Romantic era because it is not a “showpiece.” The orchestra and the soloist work together as a whole – not one person “stands out” and takes over the piece, which was a new compositional technique straying away from the idea of the virtuoso. Dvorak’s Cello Concerto also embodies such emotion depicted in the dynamics and changes of musical themes.
The first movement of the concerto is constructed around two main themes. The first theme is in B minor and the second theme is pentatonic. The themes are passed back and forth between the solo cello and the orchestra. The second movement is more “peaceful” feeling than the first movement and it is in G major. The third and final movement is energetic and recalls the theme of the first movement as most concertos of this time period did. As stated previously, this cello concerto has many musical elements of the late romantic period such as intensity using dynamics, as well as a glimpse of the idea of nationalism, which was a main idea during this period as well. Nationalism is seen in this concerto during the second movement, when one of Dvorak’s favorite folk tunes is heard briefly.
Comparing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto to another piece composed during the same time period, Holst’s The Planets, one can see many similarities as well as differences. Similarities include the musical intensity by using dynamics as well as the changes of musical themes. There are many differences as one is a large orchestral work while another is a concerto. Dvorak’s work, as most of his compositions, include themes/ideas of nationalism while Holst’s The Planets does not.
I have not had the pleasure to personally learn Dvorak’s Cello Concerto yet, but I strive to someday. As a cellist, it is one of the pieces that separate the “boys from the men” technically and musically. I had not realized there was a nationalism theme in the second movement until I analyzed it and look further. I enjoyed listening to different recordings and reading multiple articles on this concerto and now look forward to playing this work even more!
Burkholder, J. Peter, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music. Eighth Edition. (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, New York). 2010.
Crocker, Richard. A History of Musical Style. McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1966.
“Truls Mork: Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor op. 104, mov. 1-3.” Youtube Video. Uploaded by “1210beth.” Posted December 16, 2012. Accessed April 20, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF9zI33Oass