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Antonín  Dvořák

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Nationality: Czech
Born: September 8, 1841, Nelahozeves, Bohema
Died: May 1, 1904, Prague (age 62)
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String Quartet No. 14 in A-flat major, Op. 105, B. 193

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
8:09
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro appassionato
6:30
II. Molto vivace
8:06
III. Lento e molto cantabile
10:23
IV. Allegro non tanto
Duration: 33 minutes (approximately) - hide movement times
Composed: 1895, March-December (age 53-54)
First performance: October 20, 1896. Prague. Rosé Quartet
Published: 1896 (age 54-55), Berlin: N. Simrock
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10 recordings, 28 videos
8:24
Stamitz Quartet
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro appassionato
6:16
Stamitz Quartet
II. Molto vivace
9:01
Stamitz Quartet
III. Lento e molto cantabile
11:37
Stamitz Quartet
IV. Allegro non tanto
31:52
Cleveland Quartet
33:30
Janáček Quartet
8:30
Martinů Quartet
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro appassionato
6:22
Martinů Quartet
II. Molto vivace
7:54
Martinů Quartet
III. Lento e molto cantabile
11:02
Martinů Quartet
IV. Allegro non tanto
8:02
Panocha Quartet
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro appassionato
6:33
Panocha Quartet
II. Molto vivace
8:10
Panocha Quartet
III. Lento e molto cantabile
9:51
Panocha Quartet
IV. Allegro non tanto
27:10
Prager Stringquartet (complete)
32:01
Shanghai String Quartet
7:45
Unknown ensemble
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro appassionato
7:16
Unknown ensemble
II. Molto vivace
7:42
Unknown ensemble
III. Lento e molto cantabile
10:37
Unknown ensemble
IV. Allegro non tanto
7:59
Unknown ensemble (ii)
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro appassionato
6:31
Unknown ensemble (ii)
II. Molto vivace
8:08
Unknown ensemble (ii)
III. Lento e molto cantabile
9:48
Unknown ensemble (ii)
IV. Allegro non tanto
8:03
Van Dingstee Quartet
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro appassionato
6:01
Van Dingstee Quartet
II. Molto vivace
7:56
Van Dingstee Quartet
III. Lento e molto cantabile
10:26
Van Dingstee Quartet
IV. Allegro non tanto

From Kai Christiansen:

Antonín Dvořák, 1841-1904

String Quartet No. 14 in A-flat, Op. 105, B. 193, 1895
Antonín DvořákMost chamber music lovers know Dvořák's American Quartet (No. 12), but are less aware that it is only one of five superb works completing a total of fourteen many regard as the finest cycle of 19th century string quartets after Schubert. Like Schubert, whom he greatly admired, Dvořák had an instinctive sense of chamber music and a natural gift for melody. Dvořák composed his last two string quartets together, one "inside" the other. He began the String Quartet in A-flat major, Op. 105 in New York just before returning to Prague from his three-year stint as director of the National Conservatory of Music from 1892 to 1895. After completing only a portion of the first movement, Dvořák traveled home and began afresh with a new string quartet, Op. 106. Only after finishing this "next" quartet, did he resume Op. 105, completing both in 1895. Despite its lower opus number, Op. 105 became Dvořák's fourteenth and final string quartet, in fact, his last piece of instrumental chamber music in a vast oeuvre of more than thirty-one outstanding works. Though sometimes characterized as "less ambitious" than its companion, Op. 105 is a masterwork of superb construction and undeniable inspiration that, with Op. 106, is considered to reflect Dvořák's joyous homecoming. Characteristic of Dvořák, the music works so well "on the surface" that one may not immediately notice the ingenuity of detail including the relationships that make it this highly integrated work of art.

The quartet opens with a brooding adagio introduction, a ponderous contrapuntal labor portending a probing journey. But, after an impressive intensification, the tense motif explodes into the bright theme of an exuberant allegro. Like many great quartets that start with such a feint, the introduction is not merely a fleeting preface easily forgotten; its mood and musical substance return several times in different guises, an alter-ego that sharpens the main identity of the music like a shadow on a sunny day. Dvořák's main theme (of only four bars) contains three key motifs from which he derives most of the sonata's material. In terms of motif development, he learned well from his classical predecessors including an organic thematic transformation related to Brahms, another important influence on Dvořák. There are two additional themes, the last frequently described as a "hunting call." Without repeating, the exposition launches into a wildly dramatic development. The movement concludes with a new synthetic theme cleverly devised through a call and response of motifs from the first two themes.

Dvořák had a special flair for the scherzo. It is not only that he had a rich stock of lively folk dances to draw from. His melodic gift coupled with his imagination for sonorous textures enabled Dvořák to create brilliant contrasts between scherzo and trio while, at the same time, linking them through shared but ingeniously transformed music and joining the sectional design with fluid transitions. The spicy F minor molto vivace is a great example. The vivacious dance with pronounced syncopation and cross rhythms has been related to the Czech stomping dance called the furiant, a folk element Dvořák used many times. The first reprise of the scherzo begins with a leaping melody and ends with a heavy falling four-bar tag in thick unison with a strong Slavic flavor. The second reprise joins the four-bar tag (now as main melody) with the leaping dance as counterpoint. The trio alights with a magical sweetness, the new key of A-flat major and an apparently fresh theme that turns out to be a rising inversion of the four-bar tag, closely related yet cleverly transformed. The trio expands, as, slowly, the dotted rhythms of the scherzo slowly creep back in and, without showing a seam, blends right back into the da capo scherzo.

Dvořák's slow movement is a beautiful song based on a theme that is closely related to the main theme from the quartet's moody introduction. Most noteworthy is the rich interplay between violins that creates a fresh variation of the theme with each restatement. The form follows a characteristic slow-movement three-part design with its contrasting central section, in this case, restless with agitated pulsations and sighing chromatic lines that shift throughout the voices like a ghost. The violin duo returns with lively, loquacious play made especially buoyant by soft pizzicato in the lower strings. A souvenir of the three-part journey lingers in a brief recall of the darker interlude, the echo of memory in the penultimate bars before the violins softly disappear aloft.

Dvořák finishes his very last chamber work with the longest movement of the four, an exuberant, rhapsodic allegro that begins with nearly cryptic suspense and ends with high-powered revelry of an almost orchestral bigness. The opening appears to be yet another reference to the suspenseful motif from the beginning of the quartet but is soon absorbed into lively dance with hints of polka. Throughout the finale there is play, humor, a variety of textural colors, and a characteristic wealth of lyrical melody that one swears one has heard before. This immediate appeal with its warmth of familiarity is perhaps Dvořák's great calling card; it can be recognized even in his early works. But it is worth reiterating that nearly all his music rests on impeccable craftsmanship with details to entertain the mind as well as charm the heart.

© Kai Christiansen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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