Dvořák Concerto Timeline and Newly Discovered Early Version of the Cello Part

Did you know that Alexander Hamilton, Mozart, and Dvořák had something in common?

All three fell in love with their (respective) wife’s sister.

Dvořák even added the achingly beautiful, tragic, nostalgic ending to his cello concerto after his sister-in-law’s death. As a theme for the second movement, he used the song “Lasst mich allein” (Leave Me Alone), which was her favorite among his songs.

Fast forward a hundred and thirty years.

I recently returned from Prague; what a magical city! Dvořák, Smetana, and Kafka (also Mozart and Beethoven) all spent time there. Some lived there for most of their lives. Being in Prague felt like standing with one foot in the East (think Poland) and one foot in the Western world (Vienna, Austria) and so does Dvořák’s cello concerto. Sometimes.

There is a long and complicated history to the manuscript of the cello concerto that I find fascinating and I will try to explain it as best I can.

– 1893: Dvořák tours Bohemia with his friend, cellist Hanus Wihan, for whom he wrote the Rondo in G minor and arranged Silent Woods as well as Slavonic Dances No. 3 and No. 8 from Op. 46.

– October 1893: Dvořák orchestrates Silent Woods and the Rondo.

– March 10, 1894: Dvořák attends the premiere of Victor Herbert’s second cello concerto in New York City. (Victor Herbert himself was the soloist.) Dvořák is inspired to write a concerto, the idea has been percolating in his mind for a while, plus Wihan has been bugging him for years to do so…

– November 1894: Josefina Kaunitzova, Dvořák’s sister-in-law, writes Dvořák a letter saying she is seriously ill.

– November 1894: Dvořák starts writing the cello concerto while director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He dedicates it to Wihan.

– February 1895: The concerto is completed.

– 1895: A separate cello part for the principal cellist of the Boston Symphony, Alwin Schroeder, is made by an anonymous copyist. It is evident that the copy was done from a now lost autograph cello part written out by Dvořák*. Many of the later changes are not included in this cello part.

– February 25, 1895: Dvořák writes a letter saying he played the concerto for Schroeder. (He played solo piano, probably reading from the orchestral score.)

– April 27, 1895: Dvořák returns to Bohemia.

Josefina dies in May 1895, after which Dvořák revises the ending to the last movement. Starting bar 453, he incorporates musical quotes referring to her from earlier in the concerto in the new coda.

Wihan is practicing and editing the concerto with Dvořák in preparation for the world premiere but due to a scheduling conflict, he does not play the world premiere.

– September 9-16, 1895: Dvořák writes a piano reduction for the orchestral score. The piano version does not include the solo cello part.

– September 1895: Wihan privately performs the concerto with Dvořák in Luzany (located in Bohemia, today Slovakia).

– January 27, 1896: Brahms – who is involved in proof reading the score as a favor to Dvořák and their mutual publisher, Simrock – writes a letter praising the concerto.

– January/February 1896: The concerto is published by N. Simrock, Berlin.

– March 19, 1896: The concerto is premiered in London by the English cellist Leo Stern, conducted by Dvořák.

– December 18/19, 1896: Schroeder gives the American Premiere of the concerto. The program notes state that Stern is responsible for many of the bravura passages although there is no evidence of that being true.

So far so good. But!

There are discrepancies galore, between the manuscript score and the handwritten copy for Schroeder, and especially between the cello part and the cello line in the orchestral score in Simrock’s first edition. Not to mention the second Simrock edition, which is the Stegmann/Klezki revision from c. 1925.

Oy gevalt!

Dvořák seems to have never reconciled the Simrock solo cello part, which he revised with Wihan, with the solo cello part in the Simrock orchestral score.

To add a twist to the plot, fingerings from Schroeder’s copy made their way to the first edition, so everyone assumed they were Wihan’s.

The hand written Schroeder cello part was discovered only a couple of years ago. Jeffrey Solow, president of the Violoncello Society of New York, was kind enough to explain all this and also share the manuscript with me. Thank you Jeffrey!!

*From Jefferey Solow: “The manuscript cello part that was prepared for Schroeder was given to Schroeder’s student Robert Williamson, who bequeathed it to his son, Robert Williamson, Jr., who presented me with a copy.”

Jeffrey also writes: “While the Dvořák autograph score is certainly interesting and I believe contains a few things that Dvořák intended to keep in his final revision that are not in the Simrock cello part (and so not in the Barenreiter urtext), it is important to remember that it is an early version of the concerto (as is the cello part manuscript) and so should not be viewed as ‘the truth’ in most regards.”

Well, dear reader, I tend to like a few things from the original manuscript score a lot and who knows, was it Wihan, Schroeder or even Brahms himself who convinced Dvořák to make some of the changes? I’ll leave you with that.

– Inbal Segev