DVOŘÁK Antonin, String Quartet in F Op.96 The American Quartet

Allegro ma non troppo
Lento
Molto vivace
Finale. Vivace ma non troppo

Dvořák was teaching in New York in 1893, and for his summer holiday he travelled over a thousand miles westwards, to the village of Spillville in Iowa, set in the valley of the Turkey River. It had been colonized by Czechs in the 1850s and in these congenial surroundings Dvořák quickly wrote the String Quartet in F major. On the last page of the manuscript draft, he wrote: ‘Finished on 10 June 1893, Spillville. I’m satisfied. Thanks be to God. It went quickly.’

Coming immediately after the ‘New World’ Symphony (which was to have its triumphant première in New York later in the year), the quartet has a mood that suggests something of his contentment in Spillville. Dvořák’s assistant Josef Kovařík recalled the composer’s routine: walks, composing, playing the organ for Mass and talking to locals, observing that he ‘scarcely ever talked about music and I think that was one of the reasons why he felt so happy there.’

Just how ‘American’ is the quartet? While remaining completely true to himself, Dvořák admitted that ‘as for my … F major String Quartet and the Quintet (composed here in Spillville) – I should never have written these works the way I did if I hadn’t seen America’. The first performance was given in Boston on New Year’s Day 1894 by the Kneisel Quartet.

© Nigel Simeone

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