Antonín Dvořák


B203, Op. 114 • “The Water Nymph”

Recommended recording

Curated by Maryna Boiko, Primephonic Curator

About this work

After Antonín Dvorák had conquered the musical world -- he was considered the greatest Czech composer in Bohemia, the greatest composer after Brahms in Austria and Germany, the successor of Mendelssohn in England, and the greatest composer in the world in the United States -- he returned to Bohemia to write the national operas of his people. He started with Kate and The Devil (1899) and ended with Armida (1904), but between them composed the great Czech national opera, Rusalka. Written in a single burst of inspiration between April 21 and November 27, 1901, to a text by Jaroslav Kvapil based on Hans Christian Andersen, Rusalka is a Bohemian "Little Mermaid." Telling the sad story of a water sprite who longs for human love, Rusalka is a three-act opera set in its first and last acts in the lakes of Bohemia, with a central act depicting an interrupted wedding feast. Although it hews basically to the composer's distinctive mix of nationalism, lyricism, and Brahmsian classical thinking, the influence of Wagner is readily apparent in the use of leitmotif musical character identifiers, and more generally in the derivation of the story from ancient and fantastic legend. Its melodies are based on the cadences of the Czech language; its harmonies are lushly late Romantic, sometimes almost Impressionistic but always sweetly and sensuously Czech; its cavatinas, arias, and set pieces are derived from the folk ballads of Czech poetry; and its lyricism is deep, passionate, and all-suffusing. Dvorák's Rusalka rivals the operas of Smetana and Janácek as the supreme expression of what it means to be Czech in music.