Composers Datebook®

Dvorak's "American" Quintet

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) – II. Allegro vivo, fr String Quintet in E-Flat Major, Op. 97 (Vlach Quartet Prague with Ladislav Kyselak, viola) Naxos 8.553376

Composer's Datebook - 20220801


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August 01, 2022


Most classical music lovers know and love Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, Opus 95, and his “American” String Quartet, Opus 96, but fewer know the work he wrote next: his String QUINTET, Opus 97. We think that’s a shame, since all three rank among the finest things the Czech composer ever wrote.

Dvorak’s Quintet is also nicknamed the “American” – and for good reason: It was completed in 1893 on today’s date in Spillville, Iowa, during the composer’s summer vacation in that small, rural community of Czech immigrants, where he and family could escape the noise and bustle of New York City and his duties there at the National Conservatory.

Dvorak had been brought to America to teach Americans how to write American music, but, like any good teacher, Dvorak was as eager to LEARN as to teach. In New York, Henry T. Burleigh, a talented African-American Conservatory student taught Dvorak spirituals, and in Spillville, Dvorak eagerly attended performances of Native American music and dance by a group of touring Iroquois Indians.

Traces of those influences can be heard in Dvorak’s “American” works. In his Quintet, for example, unison melodic lines and striking rhythms seem to echo the Iroquois chants and drums Dvorak heard during his summer vacation in Spillville.

Music Played in Today's Program

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) – II. Allegro vivo, fr String Quintet in E-Flat Major, Op. 97 (Vlach Quartet Prague with Ladislav Kyselak, viola) Naxos 8.553376

On This Day


  • 1779 - Baltimore lawyer Francis Scott Key, who in 1814 wrote the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner," setting his text to the tune of a popular British drinking song of the day, "To Anacreon in Heaven," written by John Stafford Smith; The text and the tune became the official national anthem by and Act of Congress in 1931;

  • 1858 - Austrian composer Hans Rott, in Vienna;

  • 1913 - American composer Jerome Moross, in Brooklyn;

  • 1930 - British pop song and musical composer Lionel Bart, of "Oliver!" fame, in London;


  • 1973 - Gian-Francesco Maliperio, Italian composer and first editor of collected works of Monteverdi and Vivaldi, age 91, in Treviso;


  • 1740 - Thomas Arne: masque, “Alfred” (containing “Rule, Brittania”), in Clivedon (Gregorian date: August 12);

  • 1921 - Hindemith: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 16, by the Amar Quartet (which included the composer on viola) in Donaueschingen, Germany;

  • 1968 - Webern: "Rondo" for string quartet, written in 1906, at the Congregation of the Arts at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire;

  • 1993 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Concerto for Horn and String Orchestra, at the Bravo! Music Festival in Vail, Colo., by soloist David Jolley with the Rochester Philharmonic, Lawrence Leighton Smith conducting;


  • 1892 - John Philip Sousa , age 37, quits the U.S. Marine Corps Band to form his own 100-piece marching band;

  • 1893 - In Spillville Iowa, Antonin Dvorák finishes his String Quintet in Eb, Op. 97 ("The American") during his summer vacation at the Czech settlement.