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Word and Music in the Works of Dvořák: A Neglected Treasure Trove

  • Bohemian National Hall 321 East 73rd Street New York, NY, 10021 (map)

As the topic of his lecture for DAHA Dr. Beveridge has chosen one of his most striking discoveries during his decades of research in all aspects of Dvořák's life and work, namely the amazing quantity and stunning beauty of his vocal music––operas, choral works, duets, and songs––and the peculiar circumstances that have caused music historians to underrate most of this music and performers to neglect it.

Practically ubiquitous in general discussions of Dvořák is the assertion that his most significant contributions were in instrumental music––that vocal music was a sideline for him in which he excelled to a lesser degree. In reality half of his output (measured by performance time) is in vocal music, which played at least as great a role as instrumental music in the successes he enjoyed during his lifetime. And close listening to his vocal music in combination with the words they express reveals his extraordinary talent for musical expression of texts. The myth of his specialization in instrumental music arose mysteriously in some of the first Czech reviews of performances of his works, oddly despite the fact that the same reviewers expressed strong enthusiasm for his choral music and operas around the same time. The image of Dvořák as a specialist in instrumental music spread to western Europe and America via biographical profiles written by Czechs in the German language. Fortunately the Czechs themselves (exhibiting what some would call a national character trait) have always ignored their own 'rules' about Dvořák and performed his vocal works frequently, but elsewhere the myth of his inferiority in vocal music took hold and, even in England where for decades audiences were thrilled by his large choral works, eventually led to concentration on his orchestral and chamber music. 

During his talk Dr. Beveridge will play short recorded examples from several of Dvořák's splendid vocal works that many in the audience will probably never have heard before, and focus more closely on his skillful setting of words in two works associated with New York––The American Flag, a cantata to an English text composed for and premiered in New York, and the Biblical Songs, composed during his service as director of New York's National Conservatory. The Biblical Songs will then be performed live in their entirety by mezzo-soprano Mirjam Frank, with Dr. Beveridge's own translation (in its 'premiere') of the sung text attempting to capture in English the perfect union of word and music Dvořák achieved in Czech. Ms. Frank will also sing a recitative and aria from the oratorio Saint Ludmila.

David R. Beveridge, a native of Ohio, earned his Ph.D. in music history and literature at the University of California in Berkeley and taught at various American colleges and universities before settling permanently in the Czech Republic in 1993. Since that time he has been serving on a freelance basis as a translator from Czech to English (with a long list of publications, mostly pertaining to Czech music) and as a musicologist working over the long term on the most comprehensive-ever treatment of the life and work of Antonín Dvořák (now nearly half finished) with support from such agencies as the International Research and Exchanges Board, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic, and the Music Libraries Trust of Great Britain. He has published numerous articles and essays in the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, and the Czech Republic presenting his findings and his reflections, and served as editor and co-author of the book Rethinking Dvořák: Views from Five Countries for Oxford University Press. In 2013 he won an award from the Hlávka Foundation in Prague for his book (in Czech) on relations among four persons: the architect, builder, and philanthropist Josef Hlávka, Dvořák, and the wives of both men. Dr. Beveridge lectures frequently on musical topics for innumerable Czech and international groups, most often for Road Scholar educational tours in Prague but recently including also for instance the Music@Menlo chamber music festival in California and events of the Manhattan String Quartet.

Also by David R. Beveridge

“Antonin Dvořák: His Life, His Music, His Legacy”


Photo credit: Christoph Frank

Photo credit: Christoph Frank

Mezzo-Soprano Mirjam Frank has performed with renowned ensembles and as soloist. She regularly sings with the Arnold Schoenberg Choir in Vienna (director: Erwin Ortner). Conductors she worked with include Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Franz Welser-Möst and Cornelius Meister. As a soloist, she sang with the Augsburger Kammeroper (Germany), and performed her own project Monodrama – Hommage à Cathy Berberian at NYU in the spring of 2015. Mirjam currently studies with soprano Judith Natalucci in New York. Mirjam is based in London (UK) where she is a PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London and recipient of the Reid Scholarship. Her work includes the exploration of home and exile in the compositions of Alexander Zemlinsky and Kurt Weill, as well as music created in Terezín. Mirjam holds a MSt in Music (Performance) from the University of Oxford (2012), as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama & Music from Royal Holloway, University of London (2011). 

General Admission to be paid at door: $20; Seniors, Students, Czech Center Club Members $10.

Supported by the Bohemian Benevolent & Literary Association (BBLA).

Earlier Event: April 26
DAHA 25th Anniversary Celebration
Later Event: December 13
Day of Czech Holiday Festivities