The Happiness of Antonin Dvorak ‘American’

Dvorak 'American' String Quartet

String Quartet ‘American’ No.12 Op.96 in F Major.

This classical music piece was written by Dvorak in his best time and best state of mind, which illustrates the excerpt of Dvorak’s letter he wrote to his friend Jindrich Geisler: ‘I have been on vacation since 3 June here in the Czech village of Spillville and I won’t be returning to New York until the latter half of September. The children arrived safely from Europe and we’re all happy together. We like it very much here and, thank God, I am working hard and I’m healthy and in good spirits.’

These days of contentment and family harmony, and the hospitality of the locals gave rise to an exceptionally joyful piece of music. The entire sketch for the quartet emerged within an astonishingly short period of time, a mere 72 hours, in fact, and the whole score was finished within twelve days. On the last page of the sketch Dvorak noted: ‘Thank God. I am pleased. It all went so quickly!’.

‘American’ or ‘Czech’?

The String Quartet in F major is known as the ‘American’, not only since it appeared on the American continent, but also for the fact that it contains a number of elements typical for original African American and Native American music.

Nevertheless, certain scholars couldn’t find practically either Negro songs nor Native American melodies in the quartet.  For more than a century, musicologists have debated on the extent to which this quartet is ‘American’ or ‘Czech’.

Dvorak himself commented on this issue: ‘I know that I would never have written my new symphony, or the String Quartet in F major, or the quintet here in Spillville, if I had never seen America!’

In his quartet Dvorak breaks certain traditional notions of the quartet form, which is sonata cycle. He deliberately abandons ideas of sophisticated thematic treatment, dramatic development sections, complex polyphonic structures, or evenly balanced ‘dialogues’ between all the instruments.

This quartet also had success on INGUZ-Quartet’s 24 November debut concert. 

Fancy to listen to it? Check it out below!

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