WORD AND MUSIC IN THE WORKS OF DVOŘÁK: A NEGLECTED TREASURE TROVE
THE MYTH: Further Background by David R. Beveridge
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.