The Kennedy Center

Slavonic Dances for flute, clarinet, and harp

About the Work

Antonin Dvorak Composer: Antonín Dvorák
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

The eight Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, were the first efflorescence of the Czech nationalism that was to become so closely associated with Dvorák's music. On the advice of his mentor Johannes Brahms he sent them to the noted publisher Fritz Simrock of Berlin in May 1878 and was paid 300 marks, the first substantial sum Dvorák had ever made from any of his works. Though those pieces were originally intended for piano duet (a shrewd marketing strategy by Simrock-there were a lot more piano players than orchestras), Dvorák began the orchestrations even before the keyboard score for all eight dances was completed, and Simrock issued both versions simultaneously in August 1878. Louis Ehlert, the influential critic of the Berliner Nationalzeitung, saw an early copy of the Slavonic Dances, and wrote admiringly of their "heavenly naturalness" and Dvorák's "real, naturally real talent." The public's interest was aroused, there was a run on the music shops, and Dvorák was suddenly famous (and Simrock was suddenly rich). Eight years later, as part of a deal with Simrock to publish the Symphony No. 7, which the publisher contended would not sell well, Dvorák wrote a second series of Slavonic Dances (Op. 72). The fee was 3,000 marks, ten times the amount tendered for the earlier set. Though he did not quote actual folk melodies in this music, as had Brahms in his Hungarian Dances, Dvorák was so imbued with the spirit and style of indigenous Slavic music that he was able to create such superb, idealized examples of their genres as the Czech furiant (Op. 46, No. 8).