Between 1772 and 1795, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Habsburg Monarchy divided and annexed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth amongst themselves in a series of three partitions.
Though one of the largest and most populous countries in 16th– and 17th-century Europe, decades of protracted political, military and economic decline led the country to the brink of civil war, made it vulnerable to foreign influences, and ultimately rendered it unable to withstand the onslaught brought by the encroaching powers, even in spite of a revolutionary new constitution, a war in its defense and an uprising led by Tadeusz Kosciuszko. (As a side note, Kosciuszko was also a decorated hero of the American Revolutionary War and an accomplished military architect who designed and oversaw the construction of state-of-the-art fortifications, including those at West Point.)
Even in a cultural era ripe with nationalism, Antonín Dvořák was one of the most nationalistic. Slavic folk music, especially from his native Bohemia, permeates his entire oeuvre. He develops these simplistic folk elements into sophisticated symphonies, operas and concertos through Romantic compositional techniques, while retaining a certain innocence that makes his music approachable and beloved by musicians and audiences alike.
For Dvořák incorporating Slavic folk elements into his music wasn’t so much a political gesture as it was a matter of musical philosophy. Having grown up in the Bohemian countryside playing folk tunes in his father’s tavern, he intuited an intimate relationship between music and the place it came from, and he believed that all peoples of the world should develop their own music stemming from their homegrown culture. more “Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9: A National Culture for the New World”…