Dvořák's "American" Quintet

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Sunday, January 12, 2020

Composers and publishers don’t always see eye to eye. Simrock, the German publisher of Dvorak’s music, irritated the patriotic Czech composer by issuing his scores with his first name printed in its Germanic form “Anton” rather than its Czech form “Antonin.” They finally came up with a compromise: Simrock ABBREVIATED Dvorak’s first name, printing it as “A-N-T-period” on the music’s title page: Germans could read that as “Anton” and Czechs as “Antonin.” Everyone was happy.

Simrock would also have liked Dvorak to stick to writing small-scale chamber works — which sold well— rather than large-scale symphonic works — which didn’t.

“You counsel me that I should write small works,” writes Dvorak in 1891, “but this is very difficult . . . At the moment my head is full of LARGE ideas and I will have to do as dear Lord wishes.” A few years later, Dvorak would make Simrock very happy by sending them some large- AND small-scale works that would sell tremendously well, including his “New World” Symphony and “American” Quartet . . . plus this music — an “American” QUINTET published by Simrock as Dvorak’s Op. 97.

Dvorak’s Quintet was composed in Spillville, Iowa, in the summer of 1893 and was first heard at Carnegie Hall in New York on today’s date in 1894.