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Antonín Dvořák

Antonín Dvořák was born on 8 September 1941 as the first of nine children to Anna and František Dvořák in Nelahozeves. All of Antonín's paternal ancestors were butchers or innkeepers and it was automatically assumed that the first-born would inherit the trade. In addition to the butchery trade, another genetic trait was passed down in the Dvořák family: a talent for music. However, they considered "music" to be just a pleasant diversion from everyday life and a way of earning money. But it soon became apparent that this would not be the case with Antonín.


Antonín DvořákHe far surpassed everyone in music, so his father entrusted him to Josef Spitz, a teacher and musician from Nelahozeves, to further develop his son's talents. The young Dvořák soon mastered the violin and entertained the company at village dances, and in time he made his first solo appearance as a violinist in the church in nearby Veprek. Dvořák's childhood, however, was closely linked to helping out in his father's trade and preparing to take it over. This also included visits to the markets in the area, where father and son would go to collect cattle. According to his own later account, the young Dvořák once led a wild cattle from the fair on a rope, which dragged it all the way to the pond. He is said to have vowed in tears that he would never be a butcher. Dvořák's introduction to locomotives, his later lifelong interest, also dates from this time. When he was nine years old, he witnessed the construction of a railway line that ran right through Nelahozeves. In the summer of 1851, the first steam locomotive passed through the village, the pinnacle of technical skill at that time. It can be assumed that these childhood impressions stimulated his future interest in everything related to modern transport.

Meanwhile, Father Francis was almost bankrupt. Hoping that the business would flourish better in a larger village, he decided to move the whole family to nearby Zlonice, where they had relatives. In 1853, at the age of twelve, Antonín came under the supervision of the Zlonice cantor and multi-instrumentalist Antonín Liehmann. Liehmann, an outstanding musician locally, soon recognised the young Dvořák's extraordinary talent and began to initiate him into the basics of harmony and organ playing, later also allowing him to play at mass. Dvořák's first compositional attempts, small polkas, were written at this time. Because Dvořák was much more devoted to music than anything else, he was still lagging behind in his knowledge of German, which was indispensable for him as a future tradesman. His father therefore sent him to Ceska Kamenice for a year to "trade" in order to improve his language skills. Here Dvořák not only improved his knowledge of the language, but also took up music.

Dvořák never learned the butcher's trade because Liehmann eventually managed to convince František Dvořák that his son's extraordinary talent deserved the constant care and education that only a professional music institute could provide. In the autumn of 1857, the sixteen-year-old Dvořák moved to Prague.

Studies 1857 - 1859 in Prague 

When choosing a suitable educational institute, the choice fell on the Prague Organ School. The Institute for Church Music, as the school was officially called, was located in Konviktská Street in the Old Town and provided education in organ playing, harmony and counterpoint. The school's facilities were of a very low standard: they consisted of three uncomfortable classrooms in a dingy former Jesuit college building, and only one poor-quality organ was available to the students. However, these shortcomings were compensated by an excellent teaching staff, who were able to instil in their pupils a solid foundation in music theory and practice. At the same time as the organ school, the young Dvořák attended a German school, from which he completed his fourth year in 1858. Almost from the beginning of his studies, he was also a member of the Cecil Unity Orchestra, where he gained not only valuable experience as an orchestral viola player, but also a basic orientation in 19th century music. He graduated from the organ school in July 1859 with a public concert in which he performed, in addition to Bach's Prelude and Fugue, two of his own compositions - Prelude in D major and Fugue in G minor. They are among the first of Dvořák's compositions to survive in the composer's manuscript.

18 November 1862

His engagement with the orchestra of the Provisional Theatre begins. He plays the viola there, from 1866 under the baton of Bedřich Smetana, and thus performs in the premieres of Smetana's operas such as Braniboři v Čechách, The Bartered Maiden and also in Dalibor on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of the National Theatre. 

Year 1864

He begins to visit the Čermák family, where he teaches Josefina and Anna to play the piano and meets his future wife.

10 December 1971

The first known performance of an independent composition, it was the song Vzpomínání na slova Eliška Krásnohorská.

Wedding with Anna Čermáková 

Anna ČermákováAt the same time as the revival of his career as a composer, Dvořák's personal life underwent fundamental changes. He continued to join the Čermák family as a piano teacher and over time developed a close relationship with Anna, Josefina's younger sister. He and Anna Čermáková shared a love of music - Anna played the piano and her singing was highly regarded, and she later performed in performances of her husband's works. The couple were united in marriage on 17 November 1873 at St Peter's Church; Dvořák was thirty-two years old that year, Anna was thirteen years younger. At the time of the marriage, Anna was under the age of majority according to the laws of the time, but she was in her fourth month of pregnancy. The newlyweds initially lived with Anna's mother, Klotilda Čermáková, but after a few months they moved to a modest apartment in Na Rybníčku Street. There, in April 1874, their first son Otakar was born, soon followed by daughters Josefa and Růžena.


In this year, Dvořák and Anna were invited to Vysoká for the first time. This was on the occasion of the marriage of Josefina Čermáková and Count Václav Kounice, to whom Dvořák was best man at the wedding in the church in Třebsko. Further visits took place during the summer months, when Dvořák and his family occupied the adjacent building, the so-called courtyard.

17 November 1878

Dvořák's first independent concert took place - Serenade in D minor, Slavonic Rhapsodies I and II, Three New Greek Poems, Two Furiants

1884 - 1896

Tours to England. Dvořák visited England a total of nine times; the financial success of the first tour enabled Dvořák to buy a farmhouse on the estate of his brother-in-law, Count Kounice. In 1884, Dvořák purchased an old granary in Vysoká, which was converted into a house and became the summer residence of the Dvořák family. Outside of the summer spent in Spillville, they would come to Vysoká in May and would not return to their apartment in Prague until early autumn. Dvořák devoted himself to gardening, orcharding and pigeon breeding. He was also very fond of walking around and composing.

1892 Journey to New York

The American period of Dvořák's life would become the impetus for the writing of many works. 

31 March 1901

The premiere of Rusalka, a work associated with Vysoká and its surroundings, takes place in Prague. Rusalka's lake, located in the woods near the chateau, is said to have inspired the composer when composing it. The name Rusalka is also given to the villa, a summer residence in Vysoká near Příbram, which is permanently owned by the Dvořák family.



1 May 1904

Shortly after noon he dies saying: "I feel dizzy, I'm going to bed."


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