Songs hold a special place in Dvorák’s oeuvre as they accompanied him throughout both his life and his career. The composer’s vocal settings are highly diverse with regard to both the nature of their poetic sources and the manner in which they were set to music or also translated. Many might find them surprisingly voluminous. When Dvorák’s complete songs, including previously unknown and unpublished compositions, were performed in Ostrava in 2014, the vocal marathon lasted 4 hours!
Our publishing house continues to produce new Urtext editions of all of the composer’s songs for solo voice and piano. The project comprises five volumes, each printed in two versions – for high and low voice. All the songs (except Cypresses) are furnished with vocal texts in three language (in the order of Czech, English, German); the majority of them are translations taken from the respective first edition, though new translations were commissioned in exceptional cases. Four volumes have been published to date – Cypresses (ed. A. Frese), Songs II (ed. V. Vejvodová), Gypsy Songs (ed. V. Vejvodová), and Biblical Songs (ed. E. Velická); the project will be concluded in 2022 with Songs I (ed. V. Vejvodová).
Gypsy Songs and Biblical Songs rank among the most famous song cycles of the Romantic era and represent the crowning point of Dvorák’s song oeuvre. Gypsy Songs op. 55 to words by the Czech poet Adolf Heyduk were composed by Dvorák in early 1880 at the request of the tenor Gustav Walter, a member of the Vienna Court Opera. That is why the composer created his settings to the German translations directly, which had been rendered for this express purpose by Heyduk himself. The cycle became one of the most frequently performed works in the song repertoire, with especially the fourth song, “Songs my mother taught me”, enjoying extraordinary heights of popularity.
Biblical Songs op. 99 to Czech translations of the Psalms from the Kralice Bible were composed in the brief period of three weeks in March 1894, during the composer’s stay in New York. They were published by Simrock the very next year. Dvorák had made settings of the Biblical texts in the past, but this was the first time that he conceived them as solo songs with piano accompaniment – and as far as we know, no one else had done so before him. All of the songs share an almost miraculously apt expression of the meaning of the words and are perfect in their declamation of the natural rhythm of Czech speech. The religious texts are uniquely bonded to the music, which is plain, unpretentious, disarming in its utter simplicity and exceptional melodic beauty.
The Urtext edition of Cypresses B 11 for tenor and piano to the words of Gustav Pfleger-Moravský from 1865 has published the original version of the song cycle for the first time ever. Cypresses occupy a unique position among Dvorák’s works. They are both his first foray into the song genre and one of the composer’s oldest extant compositions, and yet Dvorák had a deep connection to this set of 18 love songs. He regarded them as profoundly intimate, and he never attempted to have them performed in public or published in their initial form. Even so, throughout his life he repeatedly returned with extraordinary tenacity in his later works to the musical ideas they contained.
Individual songs and shorter cycles for voice and piano are collected into two volumes in this edition of Dvorák’s complete songs. Whereas Songs I are devoted to the composer’s early compositions, Songs II encompasses the songs from his mature period of 1878–1901, and besides relatively well-known pieces, it includes two completely unknown songs that were not published in the complete edition.
Dvorák’s vocal works other than songs are of limited extent and are centred around a roughly three-year period in 1876–1878, which gave rise to most of his choral works. The period is ushered in by Moravian Duets (1876) to the words of Moravian folk poetry for two female voices and piano accompaniment. The work was of groundbreaking importance to the as-yet unknown composer. Moravian Duets started Dvorák’s lifelong cooperation with Simrock’s publishing house and launched his international career.
In 1880 Dvorák arranged five of the songs from Moravian Duets for four female voices a cappella, and this authentic arrangement now appears for the first time in a critical edition, supplemented with vocal texts in English and German. Five Moravian Duets B 107 will be greatly appreciated both by professionals and by amateur women’s and girls’ choirs.