The Cello Concerto

The last work Dvořák composed in America – but premiered in London a year later – was his beloved Cello Concerto in B minor. Dvořák had doubts about the cello as a solo instrument, but after hearing the premiere performances of the Cello Concerto No. 2 by Victor Herbert, his colleague at the conservatory, he was inspired to fulfill a request by a prominent Czech cellist, Hanuš Wihan, and composed a cello concerto of his own. The concerto was first read through in February 1895, in the parlor of Dvořák's house on Manhattan's East 17th Street, during a visit of the Kneisel Quartet from Boston by the quartet's cellist, Alwin Shroeder––the "first hearing in history"–– with the maestro at the keyboard.

In contrast to other of his works born in the New World, the Cello Concerto in B minor boasts no discernable Americanisms. Au contraire, it seems to signal the impending return to his homeland with references to a song from his earlier works much admired by his sister-in-law, Josefina, his first love, "Leave Me Alone ... You really cannot comprehend this ecstasy with which love has filled me ..." (Opus 82). The song provided the theme for the second movement, and some scholars note that after Dvořák was back in Prague, on the occasion of Josefina's death in 1895, he expanded the Coda, again working in the song but this time adding a new counter melody for the solo cello, which one perceptive Dvořák scholar has identified as another of Josefina's favorites (from the final duet of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin"), conjuring up another emotionally significant text, "Happiness was so easy to reach, it was so close ..."