Dvořák’s Mass in D

Antonín Dvořák (b.Nelahozeves1841; d.Prague1904) composed this famous Mass in D in 1887, for the blessing of the Czech philanthropist Josef Hlavka’s private chapel. It was originally for soloists, chorus and organ, but in 1892 Dvořák re-scored the organ part for orchestra.   Dvořák was a practicing Catholic and composed a great deal of sacred music.  This Mass is one of his finest.  Inspired by medieval Czech hymns and melodies, the Mass in D was also influenced by Schubert and Beethoven. The haunting melodies of this great work will stay with you long after Mass has ended. Dvořák’s music became extremely popular in the United States. From 1892 to 1895, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. In the winter and spring of 1893 Dvořák composed his famous Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From the New World” Op. 95, B.178 (1893), which had its New York Philharmonic Orchestra Carnegie Hall world premier in December of the same year. In the meantime Dvořák spent the summer of 1893 in Spillville, Iowa, a small Czech community located just south of Decorah in northeastern Iowa. While there Dvořák composed two of his most famous chamber works, the String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, “American” Op. 96, B.179 (1893) and the String Quintet No. 3 in E-Flat Major, “American” Op. 97, B.180 (1983). Also composed during that summer was his Sonatina for Violin & Piano in G Major, “Indian Lament” Op. 100, B.183 (1893). The second or larghetto movement of the sonatina contains a melody that Dvořák captured on the starched cuff of his shirt during a visit that summer to Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. This “on-the-cuff” Minnehaha melody was often performed, without the composer’s permission as a standalone work, which violinist Fritz Kreisler later described as an “Indian lullaby”. Jotting down melodies on his cuff was a common way for Dvořák to preserve his ideas while away from his studio, to the point where his laundress in Spillville frequently expressed dismay as to the amount of time and effort she spent on getting the cuffs clean! Located above The Bily (bee-lee) Clocks Museum in Spillville is the Dvořák Exhibit, which includes the studio and living quarters, occupied by Dvořák and his family while they were in Spillville. Also located in Spillville is the Saint Wenceslaus Church, “the oldest surviving Czech Roman Catholic Church west of the Mississippi.” The road from Preston, Minnesota south through the Czech town of Protivin, Iowa, then east to Spillville, and on to Calmar is officially designated as the “Dvořák Highway.”  (40:00)

Dvořák’s Mass in D is conducted by Dr. Marc Jaros. Mary E. LeVoir is the organist. Soloists are Patricia Kent, soprano; Jocelyn Kalajian, contralto; John deCausmeaker, tenor; and Jon Nordstrom, bass. The Schola Cantorum is directed by Paul W. LeVoir. The Mass in D was first presented by the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale & Orchestra as part of its 1988-1989 season. The Chorale & Orchestra last presented this Mass on November 12, 2017.

Recommended Listening:

  • Dvořák: Mass in D Major; Te Deum / Smetacek, Prague Symphony Orchestra / 1998 / Supraphon 111821
  • Dvořák: Mass in D Major; Te Deum / Polyanski, Russian State Symphony Orchestra / 1996 / Chandos 9505
  • Dvořák in America; Sonatina in G for Violin & Piano, Op.100 / Suk (violin),Hala (piano) / 2010 / Supraphon 111466

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