Parents are not supposed to have favorite children. By analogy, maybe composers aren’t supposed to love some of their pieces more than others—but they often do.
In the case of the Czech composer, Antonín Dvořák, his little Sonatina for Violin and Piano was one of his proudest creations. He wrote it for two of his older children, 15-year-old Otilie and her ten-year-old brother Antonin Junior—but, being a fair-minded parent, made sure it was dedicated to all six of his children!
The Sonatina was composed in 1893, while Dvořák and his family were living in America. In the fall of that year, Dvořák had paid a visit to the Czech community in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dvořák had toyed with the idea of writing an opera based on Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha,” and while in St. Paul, visited Minnehaha Falls, a local landmark named after a character in Longfellow’s poem. After viewing the picturesque little waterfall, Dvořák jotted down a musical idea, a bit of rippling water music that found its way into the Sonatina’s slow movement.
The Sonatina was finished in New York City on today’s date in 1893—fewer than two weeks before the premiere of Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony at Carnegie Hall. Despite the tremendous ovation Dvořák received at that performance, the composer himself said his proudest premiere was when his children played the Violin Sonatina for him in the family parlor.