ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
String Quartet in F major, American (1893)
It was in Spillville, Iowa, a small town with a predominantly Czech population, that Antonín Dvořák composed his American String Quartet during his sojourn there, from 1892 to 1895. The work was inspired by his impressions of what he considered indigenous “American” music — like Negro spirituals and the pentatonic scale of American Indians. But like the New World Symphony, this quartet more likely conveys the spirit of his native Bohemia, which was never far from Dvořák’s mind. Marked by a seemingly endless stream of lovely melodies passed among the musicians, the four movements are, in turn, achingly beautiful (like the second movement Lento), playful, jaunty, and rhythmically stunning. Birdwatcher alert: in the Molto vivace, listen for the song of a scarlet tanager, a bird indigenous to Iowa that Dvořák encountered on his walks. And the finale will leave you feeling exhilarated as it hurtles to a joyous conclusion.