The best of Czech classical music: Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No. 7

Photo: Supraphon

The Slavonic Dances stood at the beginning of Antonín Dvořák’s international fame. Johannes Brahms even played a part in having the composition published by the prestigious Berlin publishing house, Simrock.

Music composers are usually on relatively good terms with their colleagues. They respect one another, while at the same time often viewing each other as rivals. But in the long history of music there are not many examples of a composer vouching for his fellow colleague in the way that Johannes Brahms vouched for Antonín Dvořák in his letter to an influential publisher.

“Please play yourself some compositions by Mr. Dvořák. I think you will like them just as much as I do. He is decidedly a very talented man. Besides that, please also consider the fact that he is very poor. Johannes Brahms.”

Johannes Brahms,  photo: Carl Wilhelm Brasch,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC0

Johannes Brahms’ appeal to the publisher did not go unheard. First, the Moravian Duets were published, followed by the first set of Slavonic Dances, opus 46. Dvořak composed the latter work in 1878, and it was published and orchestrated the same year in Berlin by the prestigious music publisher Simrock. That was a surprising and unusual success for Dvořák. Eight years later, the second set of Slavonic Dances, opus 72, was also published by Simrock almost immediately after it was finished. That was in 1886. Fritz Simrock understood music very well, but he was an even better businessman. From the preserved correspondence we know that he heatedly negotiated with Antonín Dvořák over royalties. Even though the two men became friends and were informal with each other, they conducted their business negotiations without any sentimentality.

The music-listening public was captivated by the Slavonic Dances. And when Antonín Dvořák orchestrated the work – that is expanded it for more instruments and adapted it for an orchestra – it was met with even greater excitement.

Author: Ruth Fraňková
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