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Dvořák and Symphony No.8

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Dvořák (1841 – 1904)

Antonin Dvořák is a familiar name to many. Famed for his ‘New World Symphony’ and Slavonic Dances, he was inspired by the folk music of his native Bohemia and employed elements of it in his works. There’s plenty about him that many don’t know, however. Read on for our favourite facts about Mr Dvořák, and let us know if there’s anything else you know and love about him!

Born to be a composer?
Not always. Initially he was apprenticed as a butcher. He was the eldest of 14 children and it was originally expected he would join the family business and work to support his family. This meant that at the age of 13 he was inducted into the Butcher’s Guild of Zlonice. Thankfully for us, and audiences the world over, his musical talent shone through and he changed career path.

For love of Anna…
In 1873 Dvořák married his wife, Anna Čermáková. However, he only married her after courting and being refused by her sister, Josefina.

For love of …trains?
Dvořák was a trainspotter! He frequently travelled by train from Prague to Vienna and would keep obsessive records of his trips. His daily morning walk was also something of a ritual. He took his walk above the tunnel that all the trains coming from Prague’s main station would pass through.

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Agoraphobia
Though he loved to walk daily to see trains, Dvořák suffered from Agoraphobia which meant he was sometimes so afraid of going outside on his own that he would miss important events. One such event was the début performance of his New World Symphony. It’s not thought that he missed any other important musical events.

American Honours
A popular figure in America – as he spent time living and working there amongst the Czech community – Dvořák has received various honours from the American people, including a mural in Spillville, Iowa (where he wrote his ‘American’ String Quartet) and the Liberty Ship USNS Antonín Dvořák named after him.

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Symphony No.8

The sunny eighth symphony (originally called the fourth symphony) was written by Dvořák in 1889 on his election to the Bohemian Academy of Science, Literature and Arts. He wrote it while on holiday at his summer resort, explaining the cheerful and optimistic nature of the music, and you can clearly hear inspiration from his surroundings and the Bohemian folk music that we know Dvořák loved.

Listen out for the bird call melodies in the first movement, the thunderstorm interrupting the tranquil summer’s day in movement two, and the trumpet fanfare opening the finale. But remember the words of conductor Rafael Kubelik: “In Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle – they always call to the dance!”

Dvořák said he wanted the Eighth to be “different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out in a new way”. It has been four years since he last composed a symphony – perhaps being away from the hustle and bustle of daily life spurred him on.

He conducted the premiere himself, then again, the following year in Cambridge the night before he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

He moved away from his usual publishers, Simrock, because of disagreements. Fritz Simrock was more interested in shorter works than symphonies due to their money-making capabilities, and he also wanted to publish the movement titles in German. This would never do for Dvořák as a ‘proud Bohemian’. He went instead with the English publisher Novello, causing the piece to occasionally be referred to as the ‘English Symphony’, but this was not supported by Dvořák.