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Dovrák Piano Trios in F minor (opus 65) and E minor (opus 90)Antonin Dvorák is considered to be the most significant Czech composer of the nineteenth century, although he was certainly not the only prominent composer of that period from that area of Europe. Bedrich Smetana and Zdenek Fibich also enjoyed a great reputation. Nonetheless, Dvorák’s fame soon became unparalleled, in the first place probably because his music is such a successful synthesis of Czech – or, more accurately, Bohemian – folk music and Western techniques. And no doubt also because Dvorák was such a ‘natural’ composer: his music sounds so self-evident, so natural, music such as in Western Europe only Schubert was known for. It was precisely this aspect of Dvorák’s art of which Brahms was rightly jealous.On the other hand, Dvorák had such huge admiration for his older German- Viennese colleague, who had helped him so much and had even organized the first publication of his first volume of Slavonic Dances, that in his 7th Symphony, for example, he quoted a melody from Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto. In terms of form Dvorák’s music does indeed belong totally within the Western tradition: we can draw a straight line from Mozart to him, via Schubert and Brahms, Schubert being the most important composer of songs and folksong-like melodies, and Brahms being above all the master builder, the direct heir of Beethoven. And yet neither of these possessed that special quality which made Dvorák so unique, namely the ability to write totally natural melodies, which at one and the same time, and in all modesty, were capable of accompanying another melody, but also, just as easily and entirely independently, of producing amazing contrapuntal constructions, and, on top of all that, of inviting everyone to dance. Brahms once remarked with some envy that he wished he could even write a tune such as Dvorák could write just for an accompanying voice… Ultimately Dvorák was a particularly engaging man, for whom human relations, love of friends and colleagues, loyalty and intense emotions were central to everything he did and didn’t do. In that respect he was much more gregarious than ‘the hedgehog’ Brahms. In their mutual friendship Dvorák enjoyed the fact that in his presence Brahms was more cheerful and relaxed than otherwise. In a letter to Simrock in 1883 he wrote that, when Brahms was in such a good mood, he could definitely love him; he is pleased with the role that he can fulfil in that way for Brahms. It is that intense, warm-hearted and usually good-humoured quality which Dvorák’s music exudes.
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