Composers Datebook®

Dvorak's 'Luzany' Mass

Composer's Datebook - September 11, 2023


In 1886, a Czech patron of the arts named Josef Hlavka had a chapel built at his summer residence at Lužany in Bohemia and asked his composer friend Antonin Dvorak to write a mass to dedicate it.

As a devout Catholic, Dvorak was happy to oblige. Since the chapel was quite small, Dvorak wrote his Mass in D Major for just a quartet of soloists, a small choir, and organ, and led the premiere performance there on today’s date in 1887, with his wife Anna singing one of the solo roles.

Dvorak told Hlavka he was grateful for the chance to write so intimate a piece. “Until now,” wrote Dvorak, “I had only written sacred works of larger proportions with considerable vocal and instrumental means at my disposal.”

Ironically, Dvorak’s intimate “Lužany Mass” became popular as just such a large-scale work. At the request of his publisher, Dvorak orchestrated his “Mass,” and in that form it received its international premiere in 1893 at the immense Crystal Palace in London, performed by a huge chorus and a large symphony orchestra.

The published orchestrated version became extremely popular during Dvorak’s lifetime, but his small-scale original version was not even published until 1963.

Music Played in Today's Program

Antonin Dvořák (1841 - 1904) Mass in D Christ Church Cathedral Choir; Nicholas Cleobury; Simon Preston, cond. London/Decca 448 089-2

On This Day


  • 1711 - Baptismal date of British composer William Boyce, in London;

  • 1786 - German-born Danish pianist and composer Friedrich Kuhlau, in Ülzen (near Hanover);

  • 1825 - Conservative Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, in Prague;

  • 1935 - Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, in Paide;


  • 1733 - French harpsichordist and composer François Couperin ("le Grand"), age 64, in Paris;

  • 1949 - French composer Henri Rabaud, age 76, in Paris;

  • 1985 - English composer William Alwyn, age 79, in Southwold;


  • 1887 - Dvorák: Mass in D, Op. 86, at a private performance in Luzany;

  • 1924 - Gershwin: musical "Primrose," at the Winter Garden Theater in London;

  • 1936 - Kodály: "Te Deum," in Budapest;

  • 1951 - Stravinsky: opera, "The Rake's Progress," in Venice at the Teatro della Fenice, conducted by the composer; According to Opera America, this is one of the most frequently-produced American operas during the past decade;

  • 1971 - Barber: "Fadograph from a Yestern Scene" (the title is a line from James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake"), by the Pittsburgh Symphony, at the opening concert in Heinz Hall;

  • 1986 - Harbison: "Remembering Gatsby" for orchestra, in Atlanta, with the Atlanta Symphony, Robert Shaw conducting; This music became the prelude to Harbison's 1999 opera, "The Great Gatsby";


  • 1840 - German composer Robert Schumann gives his fiancée, Clara Wieck, his new song-cycle "Liederkreis," as a gift on the eve of their wedding;

  • 1850 - Swedish soprano Jenny Lind makes her American debut at the Castle Garden Theatre in New York City, inaugurating a 93-stop American tour arranged by showman and entertainment entrepreneur Phineas "P.T." Barnum;

  • 1950 - At a Decca recording session in New York City; Leroy Anderson conducts the premiere performance of his piece entitled "The Waltzing Cat" and also commits to disc six more of his most popular compositions: "Jazz Pizzicato" and "Jazz Legato" (both composed in 1938), "A Trumpeter's Lullaby" and "The Syncopated Clock" (both composed in 1945), and two of his pieces that had premiered at 1947 and 1948 Boston Pops concerts: "Serenata" (Arthur Fiedler's favorite Leroy Anderson composition) and "Sleigh Ride" (which was actually composed in July!); Anderson had conducted the premiere of "Jazz Pizzicato" (his first composition) at a 1938 Boston Pops concert, and "Jazz Legato" was written at the request of Arthur Fiedler as a companion piece for the second side of a 78-rpm recording of "Jazz Pizzicato"; "A Trumpeter's Lullaby" was written at the request of Roger Voison, principal trumpet of the Boston Pops, and "The Syncopated Clock" was popularized when it was used for 25 years as the theme music for "The Late Show" on WCBS-TV in New York City;

  • 1962 - At their third recording session at London's Abbey Road studios, The Beatles record one of their early hit songs: "Love me, do!"

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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