Dvorák, Antonín


Dvorák, Antonín

Bagatelles op.47 for harmonium, 2 violins and violoncello (parts)



Antonín Dvořák

Bagatelles, op. 47

(b. Mühlhausen, 8. September 1841 – d. Prag, 1. Mai 1904)

Maličkosti: thus the original Czech title of this five-movement suite by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). These miniatures, each a good three minutes long, are Hausmusik in every respect, whether in their choice of instruments, their structure, or the occasion that gave rise to their existence, but they are Hausmusik of the very first order. Listed as “B 79” in Jarmil Burghauser’s thematic catalogue of Dvořák’s music and often identified by this alternative tag,i the Bagatelles are music for an intimate, though perhaps not necessarily private setting, having been conceived for performance by the composer and his friends.

These pieces, written in 1878 at roughly the same time as the first set of Slavonic Dances (op. 46) and the A-major String Sextet (op. 48), are at once typically Dvořákian and something entirely different. First of all, we indeed encounter, in large amount, many of the musical features commonly associated with this composer: dance rhythms, ingratiating melodies, folksong inflections, playful witticisms, and attractive string writing. This description almost stands surety for the (often pejorative) cliché of the “musicianly Bohemian,” a quip often used to squeeze the rich output of this extremely versatile composer into a convenient pigeonhole. The problem of Dvořák’s latter-day reception is virtually distilled into a paradigm in these miniatures, which seem to satisfy every expectation of the “typically Dvořákian” while being unique among his extremely protean oeuvre, even in its large body of chamber music. What singles this work out from the rest of Dvořák’s output is its sound, which basically derives from the choice of instruments: the Bagatelles are, namely, music for a quartet consisting of two violins, one cello, and – a harmonium.

Dvořák himself was a player of the viola, among other instruments. In his youth he played the viola in orchestras to earn his living. In the 1870s he joined a private chamber music society in which he played music, especially string quartets, with his friends. The ensemble’s cellist and host, Josef Srb-Debrnov, did not have a piano at his residence. But he was the owner of a harmonium, and it was this circumstance that led Dvořák to select his scoring and to abandon his string instrument in the quartet in favor of a harmonium. He also played the harmonium part in the first public performance of the Bagatelles, given in Prague on 2 February 1879 with Vorel and Lachner (violins) and Neruda (cello) on the other parts. The work itself was composed in early May 1878, with the autograph giving May 12th as its date of completion.ii That same year the Bagatelles were issued in print by Dvořák’s publisher Simrock in a version for piano four-hands. The original version followed a year later, with the option of using a piano in lieu of a harmonium, though the latter was to be preferred if available.

Although rarely heard today in classical concerts, the harmonium was very widespread and hugely popular in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The name was coined by Alexandre François Debain (1809-1877), a French instrument builder who patented a variant of this species of instrument under this name in 1840. The term soon became a portmanteau word for all the instruments in its family, notwithstanding their differences in sound and construction. The harmonium also attracted art composers, particularly in the French-speaking countries, where solo works were written for it inter alia by César Franck, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Louis Vierne, not to mention Max Reger in Germany. Even as late as 1928 Kurt Weill called for a harmonium in the original score of Die Dreigroschenoper. Thereafter its use outside of a church context, where it served in lieu of an organ, entered a gradual decline.



Read preface / Vorwort > HERE

Score Data


Repertoire Explorer






Set of Parts


225 x 320 mm

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