Antonin Dvorak: From the Point of View of Contemporary Musicology and the New Complete Edition of His Works

By Gabrielova, Jarmila | Czech Music, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Antonin Dvorak: From the Point of View of Contemporary Musicology and the New Complete Edition of His Works


Gabrielova, Jarmila, Czech Music


It was at the beginning of 2002 that we first provided brief information on the pages of this magazine about the planned project for a New Complete Edition of the Works of Antonin Dvorak. After more than five years we now have an opportunity to write on the theme once again. What is the state of play now with regard to Dvorak's music, the reactions of audiences and musicologists and the critical edition?

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On the one hand we are very pleased to be able to say that Dvorak's fame is truly immense and goes far beyond the frontiers of today's Czech Republic, that his music has travelled throughout the world and made an impression on the public in the German-speaking lands, Great Britain, the United States, Japan and Australia. On the other hand, it remains true that the composer's fame rests--today as it did a hundred years ago--on a small number of "evergreens" like the New World Symphony, The Slavonic Dances and Humoresque in G flat major, while many of his chamber works, songs, choral songs and especially operas continue to be overlooked. In the past few years and decades the interest of specialists (musicologists) has tended to fluctuate, with waves of comment and analysis occurring around the jubilee years of 1991 and 2004.

In 1991, when the Czech and world music public commemorated the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth, three major international conferences were organised for the occasion: in New Orleans (Louisiana, USA), Saarbrucken (Germany) and the Chateau of Dobris (CR). The published proceedings of these conferences brought us a colourful mosaic of views on Dvorak the composer and the man, and also new and ground-breaking research findings on Dvorak's work and activities as a musician. At the same time two remarkable treatments came out in German. These were Klaus Doge's monograph Dvorak. Leben-Werke-Dokumente, designed for a broader reading public, and Hartmut Schick's doctoral dissertation on Dvorak's string quartets.

From the 8th to the 11th of September 2004, to mark the 100th anniversary of the composer's death, a major international conference was held in Prague entitled The Work of Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904). Aspects of Composition--Problems of Editing--Reception. The active participation of more than 40 musicologists from twelve countries and four continents was convincing proof of the durability of Dvorak's creative legacy and the lasting interest in his life and work. The collection of papers from this conference should be ready for the press at the end of this calendar year (2007). Among domestic publications of recent years we should highlight the second, substantially enlarged edition of a Dvorak Thematic Catalogue from Jarmil Burghauser, which alas came out shortly after the author's death at the beginning of 1997, and the ten-volume critical edition of Dvorak's correspondence and documents produced by Milan Kuna et al. and published over the years 1987-2004. Among foreign publications, lively interest has been aroused by the American musicologist Michael Beckerman's book New Worlds of Dvorak. Searching in America for the Composer's Inner Life, which came out in 2003.

The existence and accessibility of reliable printed editions of his or her works is the fundamental and essential prerequisite for the performance and dissemination of the music of any composer, and for its specialist musicological study and interpretation. Collected critical editions of the classics of European music--J.S.Bach, G.F.Handel, W.A.Mozart, L. van Beethoven, F. Mendelssohn, R. Schumann and others--were produced as early as the 19th century, but Czech composers rather lagged behind in this respect. In the case of Antonin Dvorak the first complete edition project, under the Editing Board for the Works of Antonin Dvorak (its members were Otakar Sourek, Frantisek Bartos, Jan Hanus, Jiri Berkovec, Jarmil Burghauser, Antonin Cubr, Antonin Pokorny and Karel Solc), was officially launched in the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the composer's death (1954), when his works had come "free" in accordance with the then law of copyright. …

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