The Dvořák Society for Czech and Slovak Music

Dvořák Manuscript
Discovery

Earliest known musical manuscript of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto discovered

Dvořák composed his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104 (B.191) for the great Czech cellist Hanuš Wihan (although the première was given by the English cellist Leo Stern). It was written in the United States in 1894 – 1895 while Dvořák was Director of the National Conservatory. Recent the earliest known musical manuscript of the piece came to light in New York and this important discovery has led the Dvořák American Heritage Association (DAHA) and the Violoncello Society, Inc to organise a joint presentation at the Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street, New York City on Saturday 5 April 2014 (please see the DAHA web site > bit.ly/1dWi9SD).

We posted some details of this event a couple of months ago and have now received from DAHA the following extra information:


DVOŘÁK’S CELLO CONCERTO: MANUSCRIPT DISCOVERY

The recent discovery of the earliest known musical manuscript of Antonin Dvořák’s New York-composed masterpiece, the Cello Concerto in B minor, Opus 104, will be marked by an unprecedented gathering of American cellists and Dvořák experts co-sponsored by the Dvořák American Heritage Association and Violoncello Society, Inc., to discuss the historical context and meaning of this recent find. The manuscript, from the personal archive of Alwin Schroeder (1855-1928), the master cellist who performed the American premiere of the work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in December 1896, has been kept by the family of a favorite student of Schroeder’s in the mid-1920’s.

The original eight-page, double-sided, handwritten manuscript will be presented to musicians, scholars and the general public for the first time in the Dvořák Room, the exhibition and study space maintained by the Dvořák American Heritage Association in the historic Bohemian National Hall (1896). In “master class” style, students from The Juilliard School, Mannes College, and The Manhattan School of Music have been invited to play the three movements of the concerto and interact with the expert panelists led by Co-Chairs Professor Michael Beckerman of New York University (Vice-President of DAHA) and Professor Jeffrey Solow of Temple University (President of the Violoncello Society), along with Cellist Terry King, Conductor and Professor Maurice Peress, Cellist Christine Walevska, and Cellist Robert A. Williamson, Jr., the manuscript owner. Dvořák’s song Leave Me Alone, at the heart of the cello piece, will also be sung by Amelia Lubrano, a recent graduate of the Aaron Copland School of Music.

Debate surrounds the manuscript and among the many questions to be discussed by the panelists, who will no doubt have varying viewpoints, are:

  1. In whose hand is the manuscript written, Dvořák’s or a copyist’s?
  2. What does this manuscript tell us about Dvořák’s compositional process with regard to the cello concerto and did Schroeder have a role in composing any parts of the concerto?
  3. What does this manuscript tell us about Dvořák’s musical intentions and does it reveal anything new?
  4. 4. How does a performer balance the composer’s intention as expressed through the text with the performer’s own musical personality and individual view of the music?

Dvořák (1841-1904) composed the Cello Concerto in his East 17th Street apartment from November 1894 to February 1895, near the end of his American residency of 1892 to 1895. His psychological framework at the time was likely influenced by the news that his first love, Josefina Cermakova (later sister-in-law Josephina Kounicova) was gravely ill, and a fragment of her favorite of Dvořák’s songs, Leave Me Alone from Op.82 of 1887-88, appears in the second movement. Later that year, after his return to Bohemia and her death, he changed the ending of the concerto to incorporate another passage from Leave Me Alone. The recently discovered manuscript, which has blank sections, may have been part of an early consultation that Dvořák had with his German-American colleague, cellist Alwin Schroeder, in New York. The concerto was premiered in London in March 1896, not by the cellist Hans Wihan, to whom it is dedicated, but by Leo Stern, because Dvořák refused to let Wihan introduce a cadenza [but see below /], insisting that the published piece could not depart from his original intention. Considered by many the crowning piece of the cello repertory, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is frequently played by leading cellists in concert halls around the world, a living testimony to the musical achievements of Dvořák in America.

The Dvořák American Heritage Association (DAHA), in existence since 1991, commemorates, celebrates, and continues to explore composer Antonin Dvořák’s extraordinary musical contributions, with a special emphasis on his influential residency in the United States in the years 1892 to 1895. From its home in the beautifully restored Bohemian National Hall in New York City, DAHA offers concerts, lectures and educational programs. At the heart of these activities is the Dvořák Room, a newly created exhibition and study space with adjacent performance venues that inspire present and future generations by preserving the composer’s American legacy. For further information, please visit www.dvoraknyc.org.

The Violoncello Society, Inc. founded in 1956, is a distinguished membership organization for cellists, cello teachers, string educators, music lovers, and composers, The idea of creating the VCS came from several prominent cellist-colleagues who used to meet socially at the great New York violin dealership of Jacques Francais. The Society aims to promote the art of cello playing in this country, provide a common meeting ground for professional and amateur cellists, promote interest in the cello as a solo instrument, provide the opportunity of performances for artist and composer, and develop a broader and more mature understanding of the cello. For further information please visit http://www.violoncellosociety.org.

The event will take place on Saturday, April 5th beginning at 6:30 PM with an exhibition viewing of the original manuscript in the Dvořák Room on the 3rd Floor of the Bohemian National Hall; the program will take place at 7:30 PM in the building’s historic 4th Floor Ballroom, located at 321 East 73rd Street, New York City. General Admission is $20; students, seniors, Violoncello Society members and Czech Center Club members $10. Pay at door; no reservations required.

Contact: Majda Kallab Whitaker, Dvořák American Heritage Association
Mobile Phone: 973-951-7169, mjkbw@comcast.net


World première of the Cello Concerto in London, 1896

The Dvořák Society would like to point out that over the years there have been conflicting explanations for the fact that the dedicatee Hanuš Wihan was not the soloist at the première of the Cello Concerto. The reason given above by DAHA — the composer’s refusal to permit Wihan a cadenza — differs, for example, from that given by the distinguished music critic and writer Robert Layton:

“… Like Joachim [in the case of the Violin Concerto], Hanuš Wihan made some suggestions concerning the layout of the solo part, particularly in the first movement, and wanted to add a cadenza in the finale. However, while adopting some of the modifications, Dvořák remained quite adamant about the cadenza, which he refused to countenance under any circumstances.

“Again, as had been the case with Joachim, Wihan did not give the first performance of the [cello] concerto, although this was not by design but as a result of a series of misunderstandings on the part of Dvořák and the London Philharmonic Society. …”

Perhaps the forthcoming DAHA/Violoncello Society presentation will shed further light on the reasons why Leo Stern gave the first performance in 1896.

The London Philharmonic Society, whose orchestra played at that first performance, should not be confused with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO). The latter was not founded until 1932 (by Sir Thomas Beecham). There were no permanent salaried London orchestras until the BBC Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1930 (under Sir Adrian Boult)