Statue sur la tombe d'Antonín Dvořák
Statue sur la tombe d'Antonín Dvořák © AFP  /  Catherine Leblanc / Godong / Leemage

10 (little) things you (perhaps) do not know about Antonín Dvořák

Creator of a repertoire that counts more than 200 pieces, Antonín Dvořák presents himself, alongside Bedřich Smetana, as one of the most important figures of the Czech music. But how well do you know that “much simple Czech musician”?

Lover of Bohemia where he was born, Antonín Dvořák managed in capturing the very essence of the Czech identity, magnifying its culture and creating a musical aesthetics that unveiled to the world the entire Slav culture. 

Big taciturn guy, the man remains mysterious, often hidden behind the genius composer mask.

He was destined to become an innkeeper-butcher

Knowing German was mandotary to become a merchant. As Antonín was expected to take over his father’s inn as went the family tradition, he was sent to school in the small town of Zlonice at the age of thirteen in order to learn it. Thanks to the complicity of one of his masters, Antonín Liehmann, the young Dvořák got the opportunity to develop his musical talent et succeeded in convincing his father to let him choose his own path. 

He joins an orchestra directed by Liszt and Wagner as a violist

While studying at the organ school of Prague, Dvořák meets Antonín Apt, chief of the musical Association Cäcilien-Verein that organizes concerts in oder to promote Wagner work. Playing with that orchestra assures him a minimum income but most of all, it gives him the chance to get familiar with those major music composers, and that for the ten years he will spend playing in the pit.

Starting in 1862, he signs his pieces “Antonín Leop Dvořák, Chvála Bohu!”

Expression that means Thank God! and that he’ll put thereafter at the bottom of all of the pieces of his repertoire.

Like Haydn and Mozart, Dvořák married the younger sister of the woman he loves

Anna Cermakova, wife of Antonin Leopold Dvorak © DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI / Contributeur
Anna Cermakova, wife of Antonin Leopold Dvorak © DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI / Contributeur

In 1865, he meets Joséfina Cermak and starts giving her music lessons. Quickly rejected by the young woman, Dvořák turns to her young sister Anna whom he will marry in 1873. From that union nine children will be born. Sadly, three of them will die at a very young age.

He was so poor that he got a pension from the government

In 1875, two years after his wedding, Dvořák asks for a state grant for the “poor and very talented artists” joining to his demand his third symphony. He will get a positive answer to his request and will see his grant being renewed every year until 1880.

He lost his three first children in two years

Those successive tragedies will however encourage him to finish his Stabat Mater that he had started when his daughter Joséfina died on the 21st of September 1875. That huge chorale piece will bring him international success. The opening night that took place in the Royal Albert Hall in London established him on the international scene as the greatest Czech composer of his time. 

He gets admission to the Iron Cross order after an imperial declaration

The Slav culture had always been despised at the imperial court. A more fervent patriot such as Smetana would have refused that honour without a doubt. At the time, relations between the court and the Czech people were very tensed and that gesture can be seen as a piece offering from the Emperor. In April, Dvořák also gets a promotion and becomes a Doctor Honoris Causa at the Czech University of Prague and gets a seat at the Academy of Sciences and Arts.

He insists on correcting his first name from Anton to Antonín

As important as the accents on the letters of his last name were, Dvořák insisted that the others wrote his first name properly following the Czech rules, with an acute accent on the -i. For that reason he often argued with his Berliner editor who was introduced to him by his friend Johannes Brahms. 

He had a passion for pigeons and locomotives

View Of Railroad Station Platform © Martin Petras / EyeEm
View Of Railroad Station Platform © Martin Petras / EyeEm

Besides his love for music, Dvořák enjoyed watching as often as possible pigeons and locomotives, whereas he was spending his summer holidays in the small village of Vysoká or travelling to New-York.

He ended up being a professor at the Prague Conservatoire

And that after he had declined the offer a first time a few years earlier because he was afraid he wouldn’t have enough time left to compose but most of all to avoid the social events he would have to attend. Ten years later, he would become the Conservatoire director and endorsed that role until his death.