Dvořák Four Romantic Pieces for Viola and Piano
Arranged by Bernard Zaslav
Title: Four Romantic Pieces
Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Edited By: Bernard Zaslav
Instrumentation: Chamber/Solo with Piano
Pages: 24 including the viola and piano parts
Antonín Dvořák’s Four Romantic Pieces, Op. 75 was inspired by his chamber-music viola playing. The score’s somewhat complex history began when Dvořák took notice of an amateur violinist who lived in his building, a chemistry student named Josef Kruis. Showing his typical kindness and lack of pretention, the world-famous composer made a neighborly offer to play chamber music with the dilettante. Dvořák promptly wrote a piece – the Terzetto, Op. 74 – in which he could play the viola in partnership with two violinists (Kruis and his violin teacher). When the three tried over the score in January 1887, however, Josef found he lacked the skills to manage the first violin line, and so, Dvořák decided to compose something easier. On January 18, 1887, he informed his publisher: “I am now writing some small Bagatelles for two violins and viola, and this work gives me just as much pleasure as if I were composing a great symphony; what do you say to that? They are, of course, intended for amateurs, but didn’t Beethoven and Schumann also sometimes write with very simple material? – and how!”
Almost immediately after finishing these four Bagatelles, Dvořák decided to give them wider currency by transcribing them for violin and piano, and it was in this form, under the new title Four Romantic Pieces, Op. 75, that they reached print. In the version heard here, Bernard Zaslav restores the viola color that Dvořák originally envisioned in this music. Dvořák considered calling the four pieces “Cavatina,” “Capriccio,” “Romance,” and “Elegy,” but removed the titles before publication – although, in fact, they fit the music superlatively well.
The distinguished Dvořák scholar John Clapham, places these pieces “among the most successful of Dvořák’s lighter works.” The first and third are lyric efforts in the major mode, both built on long-lined melodies. In No. 1, a gently buoyant accompaniment rhythm underpins serene meditation, while No. 3 presents a melody of more direct ardor against luminous figuration. The remaining pieces, both in minor mode, are strongly contrasted: bardic folk-like vigor marks the extroverted No. 2, while in the closing piece, a theme of restrained grief based on broken rhythms undergoes a lengthy, rich-textured exfoliation in which impassioned suffering can be glimpsed amid the prevailing sobriety. Dvořák himself was at the piano when the Romantic Pieces were premiered by the violinist Karel Ondrícek on March 30, 1887.
Click below to preview or purchase a recording of the Zaslav Duo performing Dvořák's Romantic Pieces.