About this work
Antonín Dvorák's arrival in the United States in the autumn of 1892 was nearly coincident with the fourth centennial of Columbus' landing in the New World, and Dvorák's sponsor asked him to compose a new choral work to be performed at the celebrations. A poem by Joseph Rodman Drake was to be the text for this new work, but Dvorák did not receive the completed text in time (although he eventually did set it as The American Flag, Op. 102). So, during the summer of 1892, he instead composed the Te Deum for soprano and bass vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, Op. 103. The work represents something of Dvorák's musical thinking immediately prior to the important American phase of his career.
Dvorák shapes the Te Deum text into four sections of music that more or less correspond with four-movement symphonic form. Midway through the opening Allegro moderato maestoso movement, the soprano soloist comes out of the woodwork to help out with the "Sanctus Dominus Deus" text; the tranquil lyricism of her melody forms a perfect contrast to the stately choral music and vigorous orchestral sixteenth notes of the rest of the movement.
The slow movement, Lento maestoso, begins in E flat major with an enthusiastic bass solo. By the end of the Lento Dvorák has moved to G flat major, in preparation for the B minor key of the following scherzo-like "movement" (with the text "Aeterna fac cum Sanctis tuis").
The finale is an expansive and flexible thing -- tempo and key develop freely, beginning Lento and B major and finishing in G major with exactly the same tempo as the opening section of the Te Deum. The outline of the solo soprano melody that opens this section is something that, by all rights, should not work, but which, through Dvorák's magical pen, does, and how! At the end of the work, as both key and tempo recall the Te Deum's opening, the jubilant sixteenth note motive from that opening is called out of retirement as well, so that a happy conclusion may be drawn from a cyclical detail.