“Dvořák in Iowa” might be a title for this broadcast, highlighting one of the composer’s two famous “American” chamber works. Both were written in 1893, when the composer and his family spent a vacation in the nation’s heartland: Spillville, "The most Historic Czech Village in America and the Oldest Czech Community in Iowa." The Quintet in E-flat major, op. 97—heard here in a performance by the St. Petersburg Quartet with violist Michael Tree—and the famous op. 96 string quartet, were both nicknamed “American” originally. Both works seem to be American somehow in spirit and expression, with motifs evoking Native American and African American music. But as our commentary notes below, although “imbued with the characteristics” of music he heard in America, these works are completely Dvořák’s own. Along with the quintet, music by two contemporary Americans: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Romance for violin and piano; and Paquito d’Rivera’s Kites Over Havana.
Nicholas Kitchen: Nicholas Kitchen (violin), a founding member of the Borromeo String Quartet, has performed as a soloist and chamber musician across the United States and in more than twenty-five countries. Artistic Director of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, he also performs as a member of the Music From the Copland House Ensemble.
Meng-Chieh Liu: A recipient of the 2002 Avery Fisher Career Grant, pianist Meng-Chieh Liu first made headlines in 1993 as a 21-year-old student at the Curtis Institute of Music when he substituted for André Watts on the All-Star Series at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Liu’s career was abruptly halted by a rare and debilitating illness.
St. Petersburg String Quartet: In 1985 three graduates of the Leningrad Conservatory—Alla Aranovskaya, Alla Krolevich (Goryainova), and Leonid Shukayev—formed a quartet under the guidance of Vladimir Ovcharek, first violinist of the Taneyev String Quartet. The St. Petersburg Quartet has recorded the complete quartets of Tchaikovsky and Borodin, the complete Shostakovich cycle, and Quartets nos. 1 and 2 by Prokofiev.
Alla Aranovskaya: Alla Aranovskaya (violin) was born in St. Petersburg where she attended the Rimsky-Korsakov Music College and the Conservatory. Soon after graduating from the conservatory, she joined the faculty and together with cellist Leonid Shukayev formed a quartet to compete in the All Russian String Quartet Competition.
Alla Krolevich: Alla Krolevich (violin), born in the Sverdlovsk region in Ukraine, graduated from the Sverdlovsk State Conservatory and the Leningrad Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory. From 1990-2005 she and her family lived in Israel, where she played in the Israel Symphony Orchestra and the Israel Opera and Ballet Theater. She joined the St. Petersburg String Quartet in October 2005.
Boris Vayner: Violist Boris Vayner, born in Novosibirsk, Russia, studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Aleksey Lyudevig and later at the Berlin Hochschule fur Music “Hanns Eisler” in the class of Carol Rodland. Former assistant principal viola in the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Vayner won second prize in the 2002 Gartow Fund Solo Competition in St. Petersburg.
Leonid Shukayev: Leonid Shukayev, a native of St. Petersburg, studied at the Rimsky-Korsakov Music College with Konstanti Kucherov. At the Conservatory, he was a student of Emanuel Fishmann (the teacher of Misha Maisky and Boris Pergamenshikov), Anatoli Nikitin, and Sergei Roldugin. Concurrently, he was invited to play in the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra by conductor Eugene Mravinski.
Michael Tree: Michael Tree’s principal studies were with Efrem Zimbalist on violin and viola at the Curtis Institute of Music. Since his Carnegie Hall recital debut, he has appeared as violin and viola soloist with major orchestras including those in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. As a founding member of the Marlboro Trio and the Guarneri Quartet, he has concertized throughout the world.
Imani Winds: Founded in 1997, Imani Winds (named after the Swahili word for “faith”) has a broad repertoire encompassing European, African, Latin American, and American music traditions. The group is in the midst of its Legacy Commissioning Project, an ambitious five-year commissioning initiative.
Valerie Coleman: Resident composer, flutist, and founder of Imani Winds, Valerie Coleman (“VColeman”) is a recipient of meet the Composer’s 2003 Edward and Sally Van Lier Memorial Fund Award. Her music combines classical music, jazz, Afro-Cuban traditions, and various distinct sonorities found within the African continent and her African-American heritage.
Toyin Spellman-Diaz: Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe) has performed in the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Brooklyn Philharmonic, and Orchestra of St. Luke’s with such conductors as Kurt Masur, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Christoph Eschenbach, and Mstislav Rostropovitch. She is currently on faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, Precollege Division.
Mariam Adam: Mariam Adam was one of the last students of legendary clarinetist, Rosario Mazzeo. She has appeared with various orchestras in California and has toured with various jazz ensembles (sometimes as the drummer) in Japan and North America. She has given solo recitals in Spain, Geneva, and London.
Jeff Scott: Jeff Scott plays French horn in the Mercury Brass Quintet, the orchestras of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem, and in Broadway shows including The Lion King, On the Town, and Showboat. Co-founder of the New Jazz Resolution, he is active as a studio musician, having recorded several movie soundtracks including Spike Lee’s Clockers featuring music by Terrence Blanchard.
Monica Ellis: Monica Ellis (bassoon) began her musical studies with her father, a jazz saxophonist. Active in the New York freelance community, she has appeared with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Windscape, New Haven Orchestra, and Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Orchestra, and in the Spoleto Festival (Italy) and Tanglewood.
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Romance for violin and piano
Nicholas Kitchen, violin and Meng-Chieh Liu, piano
Antonín Dvořák: String Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 97
St. Petersburg String Quartet and Michael Tree, viola
Interview with Michael Tree
Paquito D’Rivera: Kites Over Havana
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Romance for violin and piano
American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich studied composition with John Boda and violin with Richard Burgin at Florida State University before moving to New York, where she continued her violin studies with Ivan Galamian. She played with the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski and then studied composition with Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter at Julliard. In 1975, she became the first woman in Julliard’s history to graduate with a D.M.A. in composition. In the same year, Pierre Boulez, at that time the director of the New York Philharmonic, conducted her Symposium for Orchestra at Juilliard, an indication of the critical attention and acclaim that her compositions had begun to attract. Zwilich matured into a prolific and sought-after composer, the recipient of commissions from ensembles and organizations from both the United States and abroad. Zwilich has received many honors for her compositions, including the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Music Prize, the Arturo Toscanini Music Critics Award, an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Ernst von Dohnányi Citation, and four Grammy nominations. She was named Composer of the Year in 1999 by Musical America and, in 1983, became the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in music, for her Symphony no. 1. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004.
The simple and elegant Romance for violin and piano was commissioned by the McKim Fund in the Library of Congress. It has rather a simple harmonic language. The piano begins with a low C sharp, E, then A—an A major triad—a gesture to an old-fashioned language until Zwilich has the right handed piano play an A, C, and F—an F major triad. Mixing the two triads, she makes a marvelous short tone poem for violin and piano.
Antonín Dvořák: String Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 97
Dvořák was sought out to bolster the cause of musical culture in the United States. On September 27, 1892 Dvořák, with his wife and two of their four children, arrived in New York on the SS Saale to accept the directorship of the National Conservatory of Music of America, offered to him by the conservatory’s sponsor, the philanthropist Mrs. Jeanette Thurber. Before long, the composer became homesick for his native Bohemia. To alleviate this situation, he spent the summer of 1893 in Spillville, "The most Historic Czech Village in America and the Oldest Czech Community in Iowa."1 Here in the relative calm of Spillville, Dvořák wrote his most popular chamber work, the String Quartet in F Major, op. 96, and also the String Quintet in E-flat Major, op. 97, both originally nicknamed “American” (he subsequently dropped the appellation from the Quintet). The two works were premiered in Boston in January 1894.
The tiny village, originally named Spielville after Joseph Spielman who founded the community in 1854, was suggested by a former resident, Joseph Kovarik, who was a music student in Prague when Dvořák first met him, and was now his personal secretary. Located on the Turkey River, the rolling hills and beautiful countryside of the Iowan community were reminiscent of Bohemia. Everyone spoke Czech and the St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church had an organ which Dvořák could play.
After the arrival of two other children who had remained in Prague, the Dvořáks left for Spillville by train and horse carriage. They were housed on the second floor of a building, above a tin shop ran by one Jacob Schmitt. Popular legend has it that upon their arrival, Dvořák’s first words were, "It is so beautiful here…so much like my native land." In his Reminiscences, Kovarik wrote:
“The Master’s day in Spillville was more or less as follows: He got up about four in the morning and went for a walk to the river and returned at five. After his walk, he worked; at seven he was sitting at the organ in church. Then he chatted a little, went home, worked again and then went for a walk. He usually went alone—here he had none of the nervous tension from which he sometimes suffered in Prague—and often nobody knew where he had gone. Almost every afternoon he spent in the company of some of the older settlers… In Spillville, the Master scarcely ever talked about music and I think that was one of the reasons he liked being there and why he felt so happy.”2
During his stay, Dvořák, sitting in the front row, attended every performance of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show. The drumming of the Kickapoos may have inspired the ostinato drumming effects in the second movement of the Quintet. But the themes in the Quintet, as well as in the Quartet and in the "New World" Symphony (which was begun as soon as he had arrived in New York and completed in 1893) are all original. What Dvořák said about the Symphony might apply to the chamber works as well:
“I carefully studied a certain number of Indian melodies which a friend gave me, and became thoroughly imbued with their characteristics--with their spirit, in fact. It is this spirit which I have tried to reproduce in my symphony. I have not actually used any of the melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of Indian music, and, using these themes as subject, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythm, harmony, counterpoint, and orchestral color.”3
Like the "New World" Symphony, Dvořák’s String Quintet in E-flat Major, as well as his String Quartet in F Major, are, to borrow one author’s words, no more “American" than Gershwin’s American in Paris is "French."4 They do, however, reflect the composer’s experience in America with rhythms and patterns of his own native music, perhaps enhanced by similar traits in the music of the Native Americans and in Negro spirituals. And that experience includes a composer’s longing for his homeland.
- Tomás C. Hernández
Music Division, Library of Congress
1. spillvilleiowa.com (Return to text)
2. Ibid.(Return to text)
3. Article in the New York Times on the eve of the symphony’s premiere on December 16, 1893, quoted in program notes by Richard Freedman to a National Symphony Orchestra concert (Return to text)
4. CD liner notes by Richard E. Rodda, recording of the Lark Quartet which also includes the Second String Quartet and the Piano Quintet with Gary Graffman (Return to text)
Paquito D’Rivera: Kites Over Havana
In addition to his extraordinary performing career, Paquito D’Rivera has rapidly gained a reputation as an accomplished composer. In 2002 he wrote Fiddle Dreams for violin and piano, commissioned by the McKim Fund in the Library of Congress. Recognition came in 2007 with the award of a Guggenheim Fellowship, along with the appointment as composer-in-residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. His works reflect his eclectic musical interests, ranging from Afro-Cuban rhythms and melodies, including influences encountered in his many travels, and back to his classical origins.
Commissioned by Imani Winds, Kites Over Havana, was inspired by a poem (author unknown) spoken throughout the piece—a metaphor for the paradox of freedom: the kite is free to fly up in the sky, but it is bound to earth by the string:
I would like to be a kite, and soar up over the trees.
I would like to try to reach the sky with butterflies and bees.
I would like to be a kite, and with my tail of red and white
I’d love to fly so high, the things below would disappear from sight.
When once you have tested flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your
eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
Kites Over Havana was originally a work written for wind quintet, piano, and clarinet (played by D’Rivera at the premiere). The work played in this performance is an arrangement of the original septet.
Last Updated: 03/29/2010