[…] a concertante piece with piano accompaniment.” Thus Dvořák wrote to his publisher Simrock in January 1879 in answer to the latter’s request for a work in the folk-like style popular at the time. Two years earlier Johannes Brahms had recommended him to Simrock by letter; Dvořák had responded, on Simrock’s commission, with the Slavonic Dances, op. 46, a piece that “unleashed a veritable storm on music dealers” (Louis Ehlert). There was now a lively demand for works in a similar vein, especially among German music publishers. Dvořák’s works from this “first Slavic period” brought him instantaneous success followed by international acclaim.
Mazurek, dedicated to the violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, was originally composed for violin and piano (B 89) and arranged a short while later by Dvořák himself for solo violin and orchestra (B 90). In its duo form, the piece received its first performance in Prague in March 1879; the première of the orchestral version probably followed in Plzeń in December of that same year. In formal terms, the piece has a straightforward tripartite structure with a coda in which, as was typical, the material of the B section returns. In stylistic terms Mazurek, as might be expected, adopts elements from the original Polish mazurka, including its triple meter and its distinctive stress on the second beat. In detail, however, it departs from the standard features of this dance form. Dvořák employs a comparatively fast tempo (3/8 instead of the traditional 3/4) and heavily emphasizes the folk-like features, such as multiple motivic repetitions, to create what might be seen as a slightly ironic depiction of the Bohemian local color requested by Simrock.
In this point Dvořák doubtless accommodated the wishes of his publisher and his public by providing exactly what Simrock had requested: an “Hungarian or Slavic or Bohemian fantasy or some other new but familiar term!” – a stylized piece of vivacious virtuosic aplomb that sounds exotically “Slavic” to western European ears and is “intended, of course, for concert performance, with beautiful melodies and other savory ingredients.”
Esther Schmeiser, 2015
Aufführungsmaterial ist von Bärenreiter, Kassel zu beziehen.