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Length: c. 5 minutes

About this Piece

In 1877, the indigent 36-year-old Antonín Dvořák finally had a breakthrough. The publisher Fritz Simrock released his Moravian Duets, commissioned a collection of Slavonic Dances, and contracted a first option on all the composer’s new works. A Berlin newspaper reviewer proclaimed: “Here is at last a hundred-percent talent and, what is more, a completely natural talent. I consider the Slavonic Dances to be a work which will make its triumphant way through the world in the same way as Brahms’ Hungarian Dances.”

That initial set of eight dances—Dvořák’s Op. 46, scored for piano four-hands—brought him a modest composer’s fee and earned a small fortune for the publisher. In 1886, he followed up with eight further Slavonic Dances for piano four-hands, Op. 72. Dance No. 2 from the second set is an example of the dumka. That’s a diminutive form of the word duma, a folk genre that apparently originated in Ukraine at least three (and probably more) centuries ago. In the 19th century, when the dance became adapted for concert settings, composers presented it as a work of ruminative character with cheerful sections interspersed along the way.

We hear it tonight in an arrangement by Fritz Kreisler, whom we have already encountered as the arranger of Tartini’s The Devil’s Trill Sonata. He changed the tempo marking of this Slavonic Dance from the composer’s original Allegretto grazioso to Andante grazioso quasi Allegretto. Kreisler was one of the greats: a legend in his own time and a fiddler for the ages. His destiny seemed clear practically from the outset, when at the age of seven he became the youngest student ever admitted to the Vienna Conservatory, where Anton Bruckner taught him music theory and Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr. (remembered for his Brahms connections) served as his violin professor. He had impediments to overcome as his career unrolled. He was wounded in World War I while serving in the Austrian Army; and when he and his American wife came to the United States, he was somewhat thwarted by anti-Germanic sentiment. (They returned to America for good in 1939, and he was granted citizenship in 1943.) An accident in April 1941—he was hit by an egg-delivery truck while stepping off a curb in midtown Manhattan—robbed him of some of his sight and hearing, and by 1950 his career had ended. Yet through all this, he performed with a unique combination of ease, grace, charm, technical perfection, tonal luster, and idiosyncratic personality. —James M. Keller