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ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Terzetto in C, Op. 74 for 2 violins and viola

May 6, 2018: Clara Neubauer, violin; Kerry McDermott, violin; Paul Neubauer, violan

During some 1886 New Year’s Eve festivities, Dvořák met a young chemistry student and amateur violinist Josef Kruis, who was a fellow tenant in his mother-in-law’s house. Dvořák had heard Kruis practicing his sight-reading with his violin teacher Jan Pelikán, member of the National Theater Orchestra and Ondřiček Quartet, and wanted to compose something he could play with them on his viola. With lightning speed—precisely Sunday, January 7, to Sunday, January 14—Dvořák composed his Terzetto.

When the trio got together to read the new piece, Dvořák found that the first violin part was too difficult for Kruis, so immediately he wrote his Drobnosti (Miniatures) for the same combination. By January 25 he turned this second trio into a version for violin and piano, which he published as Romantic Pieces, op. 75; the original trio version of the Drobnosti went unpublished until 1945, when it was designated Opus 75a. The delightful Terzetto he left in its nonstandard configuration of instruments, and premiered it on March 30, 1887, with two other violinists: Jan Buchal, a doctor, and Jaroslav Stastny, a lawyer. The work was published later that year as Opus 74.

The Terzetto’s first movement contrasts a theme in sweet, fluid motion with a much more active, running passage that culminates in unison. Throughout the viola sometimes provides a bass line and other times accompanimental figuration. Toward the end Dvořák introduces some new chromatic inflections and closes with a note of drama as he makes a transition to the second movement.

The Larghetto juxtaposes a poignant, lyrical section with one of marked dotted (long-short) rhythms. Dvořák indulges in some gentle canonic imitation before returning to his singing opening section. The Scherzo takes the form of a furiant, a fast Czech dance full of rhythmic play and shifting accents, together with quick changes between major and minor. The contrasting trio swings along as a stylized waltz with some delicate touches before the furiant resumes. For his finale Dvořák employed a theme with ten variations, each of individual character. The contrasts of melancholy and high spirits are typical of much of Dvořák’s native Czech music. Much to his credit, we often forget that we are listening to only three instruments, particularly as he builds to the close.

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