Dvořák – String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, B. 179, “American”

by Max Derrickson

Antonin Dvořák
(Born near Prague, Bohemia (now Czech Republic) in 1841; died in Prague in 1904)

String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, B. 179, “American”
1. Allegro ma non troppo
2. Lento
3. Molto vivace
4. Vivace ma non troppo

In 1892, the American philanthropist Jeanette Thurber persuaded Czech composer Antonin Dvořák to head her newly formed National Conservatory of Music in New York City for three years.  [. . .]   Within a year, Dvořák had composed his Symphony in E-Minor “from the New World,” which according to the composer was influenced by the African-American spirituals (then called “Negro music”) he was exposed to.  Untroubled by racial barriers, Dvořák insisted that in “. . .  the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.”   Directly after composing the “New World” Symphony, Dvořák took a long summer holiday in 1893 in Spillville, Iowa.  [. . .]  Amidst nature and his countrymen, Dvořák overflowed with musical ideas.  Within 3 days he sketched out his entire String Quartet No. 12, later nicknamed the “American,” [. . .]  There is no movement without a gorgeous melody, and equally enticing are their delightful accompaniments, [. . .]   The American is unreservedly a masterpiece and crowd pleaser.

But what of the folk songs and African-American influences so often mentioned as sources for these “American” pieces?  [. . .]  All the same, Dvořák felt that just by being in America and hearing a new type of music was enough to inspire him to write in a different way – [. . .]