Dvořák Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81

John Helmich, Violin

Julie Fox Henson, Violin

Rebecca Vieker, Viola

George Work, Cello

Marion Scott, Piano

Rosa Villar-Córdova Scott, Piano

Antonin Dvořák was a Czech composer born in 1841. By the age of six, he displayed significant skill on the violin. He grew up composing and performing in Prague and made a name for himself in the city. By the age of 31, Dvořák wished to gain recognition beyond the city. In 1873, he submitted the manuscript of his First Symphony to a prize competition in Germany but lost. However, in 1874 he submitted two new symphonies and other works to the Austrian State Prize for Composition. Johannes Brahms was the chairman of the jury for the competition and was greatly impressed by the works of the young Dvořák. Dvořák won the competition not only in 1874 but again in 1876 and 1877. By this point, Brahms had made himself known to Dvořák and personally recommended Dvořák to his publisher. Soon, Dvořák published the Slavonic Dances for piano four-hands. The Slavonic Dances were a huge success and Dvořák finally received the big break he had been hoping for. Dvořák traveled the world throughout his career. In 1892, he moved to New York to become the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America. During the summer of 1893, he lived in the town of Spillville, Iowa, which was made up of mostly Czech immigrants. Here he wrote arguably his most famous work: Symphony No. 9, From the New World.

Dvořák finished his Piano Quintet in A Major in October 1888 and premiered it in Prague the following January. The work is roughly forty minutes long and consists of four movements. The first movement begins with a lyrical cello line with piano accompaniment that is then interrupted by an attacking entrance. After a brief transition, the second theme is heard; one that is much more jaunty and involves the melody being traded among the instruments The second movement is considered by some to be two separate movements, but it is not marked that way in the score. Often people will differentiate by calling the first half “II(a),” and the second half “II(b).” II(a) is a Dumka, a Ukrainian ballade known for being slow and consisting of contrasting moods. II(a) features a heartbreaking melody that begins in the piano and is then joined by the other instruments. II(b) begins on a deceptive cadence, meaning that it sounds like II(a) will resolve in a minor key, but instead, II(b) suddenly intrudes with a major key. It is happier-sounding music but eventually returns to the sad melody of II(a) by the end of the movement. The third movement is a scherzo in a fast triple meter reminiscent of folk dances. It is sprightly in nature, marking a satisfying contrast to the heartbreak of the previous movement. The final movement is a spirited rondo and is marked by very contrapuntal sections. Towards the end, the music slows down and recalls themes from the first movement before sprinting to the end of the composition.