Classical Music | Violin Music

Antonin Dvořák

Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81  Play

Tessa Lark Violin
Yoon-Jung Yang Violin
Yiyin Li Viola
Sébastien Gingras Cello
Helen Huang Piano

Recorded on 07/27/2007, uploaded on 02/03/2012

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

    Allegro, ma non tanto
    Dumka:  Andante con moto
    Scherzo (Furiant): Molto vivace
    Finale:  Allegro

Before rising to fame in the late 1870s with the help and influence of Johannes Brahms, Dvořák was little known outside of his native Bohemia. In fact, it was not until he secured an organist position that he had ample free time to concentrate on composing. One piece dating from this time, a piano quintet in A major, was published as his opus 5. Dvořák was unhappy with the work and destroyed the manuscript after its first performance. Some fifteen years later, however, Dvořák returned to the quintet, securing a copy of it from a friend, and set about to revise it with the experience and knowledge he had attained over the years. Ultimately, Dvořák decided against publishing the revised work and instead composed and entirely new piece in the same key. Written between August and October 1887, the new piano quintet, published as opus 81, was premiered in Prague on January 6th, 1888. Today, the work stands alongside Brahms’s F minor Quintet as a staple of the literature.

Leading the traditional four movement pattern, the sonata form first movement opens with a warm A major melody typical of Dvořák’s expressive lyricism. Yet, by its completion, the listener finds himself traversing a passionate A minor episode before breaking forth into a glorious C major refrain. The radiant lyricism of the opening theme is offset by a rhythmic and intense second subject in C-sharp minor. Both themes are treated extensively in the development. Overall, the first movement shows Dvořák’s capable handling of the sonata form, a technique becoming exceedingly rare approaching the turn of the century.

For the work’s slow movement, Dvořák chose the dumka, a Ukrainian lament or ballad. An interesting feature of the dumka’s incorporation into classical music was its widely contrasting episodes to the usual melancholic opening refrain. Dvořák’s dumka begins with an elegiac F-sharp minor melody in the piano. The first episode, marked Un pochettino più mosso, transitions to D major with a blithe and dolce tune. Following a reprise of the dumka’s refrain, the second episode adopts a Vivace tempo with a main theme based on the opening notes of the refrain. The first episode returns in the key of F-sharp major, establishing a sonata-rondo form, encompassed on both sides by the refrain.

The following third movement is a scherzo movement with the additional subtitle of “Furiant.” A fast and lively Bohemian dance, a typical feature of the Furiant is frequently changing accents. This characteristic is not immediately evident in Dvořák’s scherzo until the trio section. Overall, the scherzo is joyful combined with a sense of carefree fun in its melodic lines. Lastly, the spirited Allegro finale provides an exciting conclusion to the piece. Folksy and charming, the finale presses onward with fervent energy, slowing down for only a brief tranquillo statement of the movement’s theme in augmentation before dashing head-on towards a brilliant close.      Joseph DuBose

courtesy of the Steans Music Institute

Steans Music Institute

The Steans Music Institute is the Ravinia Festival's professional studies program for young musicians.