Cantatas, Oratorios, Masses
Dvorák composed cantatas, oratorios, and masses all his life. They include expansive concert works alongside occasional pieces intended for general use in Catholic liturgy. As a deeply religious man, Dvorák regarded his creativity as a gift of Providence, and he ended most of his manuscripts with a thanksgiving to God, regardless of whether the music was sacred or profane.
The first significant musical evidence of the composer’s piety is the sacred cantata Stabat Mater op. 58 (1876–1877), Dvorák’s exceptionally suggestive setting of the text that recounts the suffering of the mother as her son is dying on the cross. The sublime expressiveness of the ten-part cantata captures a monumental arc that leads from the initial image of death and suffering, through feelings of anguish and painful meditation to the final, characteristically Dvorákesque catharsis and its acceptance of life. The cantata has become the world’s most famous musical setting of the eponymous medieval sequence.
In 2004 Bärenreiter Praha published an Urtext edition of the original 1876 piano version of the work, which had previously been presented as a mere draft. A new assessment of the autograph of this piano score of Stabat mater by the editors Jan Kachlík and Miroslav Srnka showed that it was a complete piano version featuring highly developed notation and all of the solo and choral parts. This original piano arrangement of Stabat mater can be regarded as a fully legitimate and authentic piano reduction of the existing critical edition of the final orchestral version.
A key moment in the fate of this work and also of Dvorák himself was the first performance of Stabat mater in England. The London premiere in 1883 was extraordinarily successful and definitively won Dvorák lasting favour with English concertgoers, critics, musicians, promoters, and the London publisher Alfred Henry Littleton (Novello). Dvorák visited the island nation a total of nine times, being invited to conduct his own works or commissioned to create new ones. These included another three of his great cantatas.
For the 1885 Birmingham Music Festival, he composed the large-scale dramatic cantata The Spectre’s Bride op. 69 to the words of the eponymous ballad by Karel Jaromír Erben, and a year later he premiered the massive oratorio Saint Ludmila op. 71, in honour of one of the great saints in Czech history, at the festival in Leeds. The latter is one of the composer’s most expansive works, with regard to both performing forces and duration (the unabridged version lasts about two and a half hours). Saint Ludmila combines Christian symbolism with patriotism – two dimensions that were of fundamental importance to Dvorák’s spiritual world.
The last of these four large vocal works is Requiem op. 89 (1890). The famous conductor Hans Richter, who did much to promote Dvorák’s work on the international scene, described Requiem as a work in which “there are places that make you want to cry out in pain and joy.” The world premiere of the work was held under the composer’s baton at the Birmingham Music Festival in 1891, the same year in which it was published by Littleton’s Novello. Compared to the previous two works, its success was even more impressive and long-lasting.
Requiem requires a large choir and a large symphonic orchestra. Present-day practice shows, however, that choirs often lack a sufficient number of singer, causing the concert performance to be dynamically imbalanced compared to the full orchestral ensemble. For this practical reason, we have also published Joachim Linckelmann’s arrangement, which provides for a more modest set of orchestral performing forces.
All four of these monumental vocal works, and also smaller sacred works with orchestral accompaniment (Hymn, Psalm 149, Mass in D major, Te Deum), are available on hire from our publishing house in the as-yet unsurpassed editions of the Complete Critical Edition of Works by Antonín Dvorák, including vocal scores (mostly purchasable).
Mass in D major op. 86, dubbed “The Lužany Mass”, is one of Dvorák’s most loved and most performed sacred works. It was composed in 1887 at the behest of the composer’s friend and patron Josef Hlávka, on the occasion of the dedication of the chapel of the manor house in Lužany. Dvorák wrote the Mass for mixed chorus and organ with moderately applied solos. It was only at the insistence of Mr Littleton the publisher that he also created and orchestral version five years later.
However, a newly discovered source has shown that Dvorák himself wrote in a part for lower strings to the copy of the score with the organ. The organ version of the Mass enriched by the authentic part of the violoncellos and double basses (ad lib.) in the new Urtext edition by Haig Utidjian thus represents the most faithful rendition of the work before its instrumentation for orchestra.