The recent discovery of the earliest known musical manuscript of Antonín Dvořák's New York-composed masterpiece, the Cello Concerto in B minor, Opus 104, was marked by an unprecedented gathering of American cellists and Dvořák experts co-sponsored by the Dvořák American Heritage Association and Violoncello Society, Inc., to discuss the historical context and meaning of this recent find.  The manuscript, from the personal archive of Alwin Schroeder (1855-1928), the master cellist who performed the American premiere of the work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in December 1896, has been kept by the family of a favorite student of Schroeder's in the mid-1920s. 

The original eight-page, double-sided, handwritten manuscript was presented to musicians, scholars, and the general public for the first time in the Dvořák Room, the exhibition and study space maintained by the Dvořák American Heritage Association in the historic Bohemian National Hall (1896).  Students from The Juilliard School (James Kim), Mannes College (Yoon Jin Park), and The Manhattan School of Music (Patrick Hopkins) were invited to play the three movements of the concerto, accompanied by pianist Doris Stevenson. The expert panelists, led by Co-Chairs Professor Michael Beckerman of New York University (Vice-President of DAHA) and Professor Jeffrey Solow of Temple University (President of the Violoncello Society), included Conductor and Professor Maurice Peress, Cellist Christine Walevska, and Cellist Robert A. Williamson, Jr., the manuscript owner. Historical recordings were presented via audio clips courtesy of Cellist Terry King, and Dvořák 's song "Leave Me Alone," at the heart of the cello piece, was sung by Amelia Lubrano, a recent graduate of the Aaron Copland School of Music, accompanied by Jeremy Chan on the piano.

Dvořák (1841-1904) composed the Cello Concerto in his East 17th Street apartment from November 1894 to February 1895, near the end of his American residency of 1892 to 1895.  His psychological framework at the time was likely influenced by the news that his first love, Josefina Čermáková (later his sister-in-law) was gravely ill, and a fragment of her favorite of Dvořák’s songs, “Leave Me Alone” from Op. 82 of 1887-88, appears in the second movement.  Later that year, after his return to Bohemia and her death, he changed the ending of the concerto to incorporate another passage from “Leave Me Alone.”

The recently discovered manuscript, which has blank sections, may have been part of an early consultation that Dvořák had with his German-American colleague, cellist Alwin Schroeder, in New York. The concerto was premiered in London in March 1896, not by the cellist Hanuš Wihan, to whom it is dedicated, but by Leo Stern, possibly because Dvořák refused to let Wihan introduce a cadenza, insisting that the piece could not depart from his original intention.  Considered by many the crowning work of the cello repertory, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is frequently played by leading cellists in concert halls around the world, a living testimony to the musical achievements of Dvořák in America. 

By Majda Kallab Whitaker, Dvořák American Heritage Association