On Wednesday, 8 September 1841 in the building bearing No. 12 in Nelahozeves, a little boy came into world – the first child of František and Anna Dvořák. The following day he was baptised by Fater Jan Němec in the Church of St. Andrew just across the road, in the presence of his patente as well as godparents František Christoph (the village miller) and Aloisie Trusková ( wife of the village cooper ), and he received the name Antonín. At that time the Church of St. Andrew was a subsidiary church administered by the parish office in nearby Minice. Not until sixteen years later was an independent parish established at Nelahozeves, whereupon Father Němec became the first Nelahozeves parish priest.
In the year when Antonín was born Nelahozeves consisted of 46 buildings and had 438 permanent inhabitants. It was an administrative centre for a domain of the Lobkowicz family, which had its seat at the ducal castle in Roudnice nad Labem. The Nelahozeves castle served as headquarters for economic management of the family property and also as the office of an official of the nobility having judicial authority.
Besides the Lobkowicz farm operations, Nelahozeves had a brewery, a distillery, naturally a mill and a smith's shop, a ferry across the Vltava (Moldau) River, and at the edge of the village a gamekeeper's lodge, a sheep shed, and a knacker's yard. Several peasant cottagers, orchard keepers, a few small-scale artisans and craftsmen, farm labourers working for the Lobkowicz family, and the teacher at the local school-all of these rounded out the picture of the village's everyday life.
Building No. 12, where Antonín Dvořák was born, housed a tavern called by the locals Engelhardt's Inn. In the spring of 1841 Antonín's father František rented the tavern from Mrs. Anna Engelhardt, widow of Josef Engelhardt, and began running it as a source of income to supplement that from his butcher's trade. Certified as a master butcher, he was already operating a butcher's shop at No. 24 in Nelahozeves, which had been run by his father continuously since 1818 with an interruption of only a few years between 1825 and 1829.
Frantisek Dvořák settled in Nelahozeves sometime near the end of 1840 after marrying Anna Zdeňková, daughter of a farm manager in Uhy near Chržín. Evidently the young married couple rented the tavern to supplement their earnings while Frantisek's older brother Josef and their father helped run the butcher's business; the father lived in the building with the butcher's shop until his death in 1842. Seeing a Dvořák in the taproom was nothing unusual: in the widely-branched Dvořák family, whose origins can be traced to the regions of Kralupy and Kouřim, the occupations of butcher and tavern keeper were both very common.
Antonín Dvořák, the future composer of world renown, spent the first twelve years of his life in Nelahozeves. In accordance with family tradition he was expected to become butcher like his father and grandfather, but as we know, fate often changes people´s preconceptions. Soon it was clear that little Antonín had musical talent, which his father František welcomed with real pleasure because he himself was an enthusiastic musician: he played the zither and frequently made music with his brother capable players on violin and trumpet, I various taverns including his own. It is quit probable that he was soon accompanied b his son Antonín, for whom he procured a little violin as soon as possible.
Probably in 1847, when he reached the age of six years, little Antonín began attending school.
Situated in Building No. 3, the village school consisted of a single room with modes furnishings in which the one class was run by the conscientious teacher Josef Spitz, highly educated in music and said to have been able to play all instruments. Spitz also assured a respectable level of quality in music at the Nelahozeves church and - as his daughter recalled - instrumentalists there resented being scolded by him for playing wrong notes. And how I trembled then, with what fear I tuned my little violin, how my bow shook through the first notes! But I gathered all my strength and said to myself: 'Boy, get hold of yourself, this is no time or place for fear'- and it turned out well. As soon as I finished, there was murmuring and rustling around the whole choir loft. Everyone pressed toward me, friends smiled at me happily, clapping me good-heartedly on the shoulder, and from my neighbour, the first violinist in the ensemble, I even received a whole Groschen.
Thus Antonín Dvořák recalled his first violin solo, most likely in the church choir loft in the nearby village of Veprek. Children were prepared for performances like these by the teacher Josef Spitz, who was himself a composer, mainly of sacred works. Undoubtedly it was he who began developing Dvořák's musical talent. He died at 11.9.1866 in Minice.
Worthy of special note among Dvořák's childhood experiences in his native village are locomotives, trains, and the railroad. It was here that his life-long interest in these technical innovations began. Between 1845 and 1850 a railway line from Prague through Kralupy to Podmokly was built, passing through Nelahozeves along the river. This massive construction project not only brought thousands of people from the most far-flung corners of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy to this otherwise quiet village on the Vltava, enlivening for a time the everyday life of its inhabitants, but also gradually transformed the community's overall character and daily rhythm. Several houses in the picturesque settlement beneath the castle had to be sacrificed to the new transport route. On the other hand a new building was erected near the Church of St. Andrew to serve as the local railway station.
The first trains passed this way in the spring of 1850, transporting divisions of the Austrian army. Freight traffic began later. On 8 April 1851 a festival train passed through Nelahozeves with a luxurious compartment carrying Archduke Albrecht among others. Jubilant crowds assembled at the local rail- way station and along the tracks, probably including the nine-year-old Antonín Dvořák. The impressions from this event were unforgettable.
In 1853 Dvořák completed his obligatory daily school attendance and as a 'reward for diligence'- because he was an exemplary pupil - he received a book titled The Pious Christian as a gift. In the autumn of the same year his father sent him to a larger community not far from Nelahozeves, the town of Zlonice near Slaný, where he lived with his uncle Antonín Zdeněk, farm manager for the domain of the noble Kinský family. In Zlonice Dvořák continued his education in music under Josef Toman and especially under Antonín Liehmann, with whom he studied piano, organ, viola, and composition. Then he spent the 1856-57 school year in the German town of Bohmisch Kamnitz in northern Bohemia, (now inhabited by Czechs and called Česka Kamenice), to improve his skills in the German language.
In the fall of 1857, on Antonín Liehmann's recommendation, Dvořák was admitted to the organ school in Prague-breaking the family tradition in the butcher's trade to pursue a career in music. There he studied music theory, organ, and singing under František Blažek, J. L. Zvonař, and Josef Förster among others, and at the same time played viola in the orchestra of the Cecilia Society where he gained exposure to works by composers of the Romantic movement and the New German style. It was probably during this time that he began his life-long friendship with Karel Bendl, who allowed him to study scores in his extensive private music library.
After graduating from the organ school Dvořák became a violist in the orchestra of Karel Komzák. In 1862 this ensemble became the orchestra of the Provisional Theatre, where Dvořák played under that institution's music directors J. N. Maýr and later Bedřich Smetana for nine years until 1871, when he left the orchestra and tried his luck as a private music teacher.
During this period only Dvořák's closest friends knew of his efforts as a composer. Under highly-strained economic conditions he composed very assiduously, writing a String Quintet in A minor, Op. 1 in 1861 (strongly influenced by Mozart and Beethoven) and continuing with many more chamber works, in 1865 the Symphony No. 1 in C minor (The Bells of Zlonice), Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, the (first, unorchestrated) Cello Concerto in A major, and the song cycle Cypresses, then entr'acte music for plays in the Provisional Theatre, the opera Alfred, and in 1871 his first musical setting of the opera King and Collier. Many of these works were highly experimental and influenced by the advanced New German style of Liszt and Wagner.
The second main period of Dvořák's career began with a performance on 9 March 1873 of his Hymnus by the 'Hlahol' choir of Prague under Karel Bendl, which brought him his first great public success. It was also in 1873, on 17 November, that he married Anna Čermáková, one of his pupils. In 1874 he took a position as organist at the Church of St. Adalbert in Prague's New Town, but three years later he resigned that post to devote himself exclusively to composition, helped in part by grants from the Austro-Hungarian government to support tallented artists of limited means, which he received five years in a row starting in 1875 on the recommendation of a jury including Johann von Herberk, Eduard Hanslick, and from the sekond year on Johanes Brahms.
During this period Smetana served as an example to Dvořák in his successful quest to find a mature, independent style. Other primary models were Beethoven and Schubert. Works composed from 1873 trough 1877 include the Symphonies Nos. 3, A. and 5 in E flat major, D minor, and F major, the Piano Concerto, the Symphonic Variations, numerous chamber works, the famous String Serenade, the popular Moravian Duets, the monumental Stabat Mater for soloists, chorus, and orchestra (one of the most important works in Czech choral literature), and in the genre of opera a completely new setting of the libretto to King and Collier followed by The Stubborn Lovers, Vanda, and The Cunning Peasant.
Towards the end of the 1870s Dvořák's compositions began to be performed outsider the Czech lands. A decisive landmark was the year 1878 when his Moravian Duets were published by the renowned Berlin firm of F. A. Simrock on the recommendation of Johannes Brahms - who now became an additional significant influence in the further course of Dvořák's career and stylistic development. The period from 1878 to 1880 is sometimes considered the first 'Slavonic Period' in Dvořák's output, characterised by influences from folk music of Bohemia, Moravia, and other Slavic regions and use of the 'dumka' (inspired by a Ukrainian lament), as represented for example by the Slavonic Dances and Slavonic Rhapsodies, the String Sextet in A major, and the String Quartet in E flat major.
Now Dvořák received increasingly frequent requests to play piano in his own works and to conduct them. His music was propagated worldwide by such outstanding performing artists as Hans Richter, Hans von Bulow, and the Florentine Quartet and by renowned critics like Louis Ehlert and Franz Huffer. For Joseph Joachim he composed the Violin Concerto in A minor, and to Richter he dedicated the Symphony No. 6 in D major. He made many trips to Vienna and Germany, and in 1884 set out on the first of many concert tours of England, for which he would compose several major works on commission: the cantata The Spectre's Bride in 1884 for the music festival in Birmingham, the Symphony No. 7 in D minor in 1884-85 for the London Philharmonic Society, the oratorio Saint Ludmila in 1885-86 for the festival in Leeds, and the Requiem in 1890 again for Birmingham. In 1890 he also conducted programs of his works in Moscow and St. Petersburg on the invitation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Maenwhile Dvořák continued to be drawn again and again to works for theatre. In 1881-82 he composed incidental music to Samberk's play Josef Kajetán Tyl including the overture My Home (quoting and deve- loping a song which later became the Czech national anthem) as well as the opera Dmitry. For the reopening of he National Theatre after the fire he composed the dramatic Hussite Overture in 1883, and in 1887-88 he wrote his most intimate opera, The Jacobin. He also considered composing an opera Šárka based on a text by Julius Zeyer.
Other works of special note from the mid - 1880s through the beginning of 1892 include the Scherzo Capriccioso for orchestra, the Piano Trio in F minor, the famous Piano Quintet in A major (Op. 81, perhaps intended to replace his early Piano Quintet in the same key, Op. 5), the Piano Quartet in E flat major, the Poetic Tone Picture for piano, the Symphony No. 8 in G Major, the Dumkas (Dumky) for piano trio, and the three overtures In Nature's Realm, Carnival, and Othello.
Many rare honours now came Dvořák's way. In 1890 he was appointed to serve as one of the original full members of the new Czech Academy for Sciences, Literature, and Art. In 1891 Cambridge University awarded him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa, and Charles University in Prague followed suit shortly thereafter. It was also in 1891 that he accepted a post as Professor of Composition at the conservatory in Prague, where he was an excellent pedagogue and trained a number of composers of later renown including Josef Suk, Vítězslav Novák, Oskar Nedbal, and Rudolf Karel.
In 1892 Dvořák's career took him all the way across the ocean to New York, where he was hired by Jeannette Thurber as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in America - a post he held three years until 1895. Inspired by the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, he composed his Te Deum and a cantata The American Flag. Works he wrote on American soil include the celebrated Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World), the String Quartet in F major, the String Quintet in E flat major, the Sonatina for Violin, the Biblical Songs, his nostalgic (second) Cello Concerto in B minor, and (in part) the String Quartet in A flat major. Meanwhile during his summer vacation in Bohemia in 1894 he wrote the Humoresques for piano.
After returning from America Dvořák lived and worked in alternation on Žitná Street in Prague and at his beloved country house in the village of Vysoká near Příbram. He resumed is duties at the conservatory in Prague with avid interest, composed the String Quartet in G major and completed the String Quartet in A flat major, then turned his attention to orchestral program music and stage works, writing five symphonic poems - The Water Goblin, The Noon Witch, The Golden Spinning Wheel, and The Wild Dove all based on fairy-tale ballads by Karel Jaromír Erben and then A Hero's Song. These works brought his expressive abilities to a peak, and his orchestration achieved a unique vividness drawing on the Impressionistic palette, while form inclined toward the conceptions of Liszt. Further fruits of Dvořák's preoccupation with fairy tales were the operas The Devil and Kate (1898-99) and his most popular stage work - Rusalka (1900).
In April 1901 Dvořák received a supreme honour in the form of appointment as a lifelong member of the House of Lords of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, together with the writer Jaroslav Vrchlický. These two artists were the first representatives of Czech culture ever to be distinguished in this way. Dvořák's last completed work was the opera Armida (1902-03). In 1904 he was considering another opera, Horymír, when his plans were thwarted by death.
Dvořák was always glad to return to his native village. His arrivals were not generally announced with any fanfare, so we have no detailed reports about them: mostly they remained in the memories of those he visited. He had many relatives and friends in Nelahozeves and its immediate environs. Occasionally he visited the well-known tavern 'U Stolzů' in Hled'sebe where he played cards or skittles.
Legend has it that when already a reverend composer he still sat down several times at the organ in the Church of St. Andrew, where he had been baptised, and played just for his own pleasure-perhaps musing about the childhood he spent there. Only a few steps from the church stands the house where he was born, and the railway station is in sight.
The year 1901 was not only the jubilee year of Dvořák´s sixtieth birthday but also an important year for Nelahozeves, which could be justly proud of its native son. The village council appointed a special committee headed by Mayor Josef Hanuš to organise the celebrations.Be a lucky accident the festive five day of 8 September fell on a Sunday which further underscored its exceptional character. But the celebrity excused himself: his modesty led him to decline participation in the whole enterprise. (He was also absent from celebrations at the National Theatre lasting several days; according to some reports he deliberately left for Vienna to avoid all demonstrations of esteem.) Already in the early morning hours crowds of guests from near and far began to arrive in Nelahozeves, which was festively decorated for the occasion. Representing Dvořák's family were his son Otakar and daughters Anna and Magda. The morning celebrations commenced with a mass in the Church of St. Andrew in which the Havran Choir from Veltrusy sang followed by the Czech Vocal Quartet of Prague. Organ improvisations reminded listeners of motives from Dvořák's opera Dmitry. In the afternoon there was a procession to the house where Dvořák was born, to music played by the Miner's Band of Kladno. Then the writer Karel Pippich delivered a festive address, and the celebrated native son was declared an Honorary Citizen of the Village of Nelahozeves. In the early evening a concert consisting exclusively of Dvořák's compositions was given in a restaurant, featuring the Czech Trio and, again, members of the Czech Vocal Quartet among other performers. Dvořák's daughter Magda sang songs and an aria from Rusalka: it was her first public performance. Following the concert, at nightfall, magnificent fireworks glittered over the Vltava River, bringing the celebrations to their official close.
In connection with celebrations of Dvořák's sixtieth birthday in Nelahozeves a Memorial Book was started, a gift to the village from Mojmír Urbanek, son of the well-known Czech book merchant and publisher F. A. Urbánek. It was in that very year of 1901 that the younger Urbánek founded his own book and music dealership, quite modern for its time. Evidently the Memorial Book was originally supposed to serve only for occasional entries regarding the most important events concerning the village, such as were the celebrations of Dvořák's sixtieth birthday. Several years later, however, it took on the function of a village chronicle.
Credit for establishing the chronicle goes to Adolf Pergl, the priest in Nelahozeves at that time. After Dvořák's death on 1 May 1904 in Prague, Pergl entered into the book a detailed report on preparations for the Dvořák celebrations in Nelahozeves in 1901 and their course, which he was able to do because he himself contributed to them in no small measure. He could not guess, however, that his report would become the start of a chronicle - in the future a valuable source of information regarding the life of the community.
The entry on pages 19 and 20 is from the year 1913 and reports on circumstances surrounding the unveiling of a memorial plaque on the house where Dvořák was born (see next two pages).
In 1941 the Village of Nelahozeves commemorated the passage of a century since the birth of its famous native son Antonín Dvořák. The entry in the Memorial Book (the village chronicle) on pages 137 and 138 captures the event unusually well: On 8 September 1941, the day of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the composer Dr. Antonín Dvořák, native of this village, the glowing memory of this musical genius was celebrated. In the spring of this year the village council and the National Coalition (the only political party allowed by the Germans) adopted a resolution to organise the celebrations. The Dvořák Community of Prague, the Society for Erection of a Dvořák House in Kralupy, and local associations joined in the enterprise. The National Coalition published a promotional brochure on Nelahozeves along with picture postcards and festive invitations for guests. Josef Touš and Karel Mikolášek prepared an exhibition of Dvořák memorabilia for display in the school room in Building No. 3. The Ministry of Postal Services issued special postage stamps for the occasion with a portrait of Dvořák, which were stamped at the local post office on the festive day. A week before the opening of the festivities, however, the event was forbidden by the Oberlandrat in Kladno. After many interventions in Prague and in Kladno it was permitted again on 5 May, but all the planned festive speeches had to be removed from the program. On the morning of 8 September the guests arrived, including the composer's son Antonín Dvořák with his family and close relatives, canon of the Vyšehrad Chapter in Prague Msgr. Dr. A. Stříž, Prof. Zástěra of Kralupy, and Dr. Bachlík among many others. The guests of honour were welcomed by the festival committee.
In the morning a special mass was celebrated in the local church, which had been repaired at great expense thanks to the church's administrator Antonín Nedbal. After the worship service a speech was delivered in front of the house where Dvořák was born. The Fibich Choir of Kralupy sang.