Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B minor

The Dvorak Cello Concerto was completed in February 1895 in New York, and is presented in a standard three movement format, running for approximately 40 minutes, opus 104 in B minor.

1 – Allegro

2 – Adagio ma non troppo

3 – Finale

Dvorak was in his mid-fifties when he wrote this piece, having been married to his wife, Anna, for over twenty years, with whom he had nine children. However, Dvorak had also loved Anna’s older sister, Josefina.

In his mid-twenties Dvorak lived in Prague and generated a small income by teaching, where he met and fell deeply in love with the stage actress Josefina Cermakova. His love for Josefina was not returned. Dvorak later married her young 18-year-old sister Anna, who was four months pregnant on her wedding day. Four years later Josefina Cermakova married the eminent politician Count Vaclav Kounic.

Did Josefina reject the poor composer and go on to marry for wealth?

Did Dvorak console himself with a love for the younger sister?

Dvorak maintained contact with Josefina throughout the rest of her life and his unresolved love for her is core to this piece.

A full orchestra, with the exception of a three-part horn section, accompanies the solo cello. Balancing a solo cello with a full orchestra is a delicate task, the rich mid-range sound of the cello could become lost within the texture of a full orchestra. We know that Dvorak had started working on a cello concerto as a young man but had never completed it. From this we can conclude that Dvorak may have spent many years reflecting on the techniques needed to design the well-balanced orchestration needed to show case a cello soloist.

Through the three movements Dvorak takes us through a wonderful selection of themes, contrasting cello and orchestra, forte and piano. All evocative of his feelings and memories; joy, sadness, love and anger perhaps.

During the months that Dvorak was working on this piece, he received the news that Josefina was seriously ill.

Josefina Cermakova died on 27 May 1895 of “heart illness”. On hearing this news, Dvorak made a late alteration to the final movement, ending the piece with a very gentle farewell solo section prior to the obligatory grand concerto ending.

Terry Leese, French Horn