Born in the same continent, but almost a century apart, it is a wonder that the works of Antonin Leopold Dvorak and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are often placed in the same musical umbrella known as classical music. A century holds a surprising amount of change, whether it be spurred on by politics, culture, or innovation, and the century spanning between the lives of Antonin Leopold Dvorak and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was no different. Though these two composers grew up in relatively close areas, at the very least in the same continent, the very different lives they led created a rift between their compositional styles that is extremely evident in their works. Antonin Leopold Dvorak and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were two composers with distinct styles that stemmed from their respective backgrounds, time periods, and experiences.
Wolfgang Johann Chrysostom Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria on January 27, 1756 (Clive). His parents, Leopold Mozart and Anna Maria, had a total of seven children, with only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his sister Maria Anna Mozart surviving until adulthood. Mozart’s skills as a musical child prodigy were recognized from the age of four, from which then his father taught him to play a variety of instruments including keyboard and violin at a young age. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s first known compositions “date from 1761”(Wolfgang), when Mozart was only five years old. In 1762, when Mozart was six years old, he and his elder sister were taken on a concert tour by Leopold Mozart, in which they performed at the royal court in Hapsburg royal courts such as Muich and Vienna. They even played for thee Austrian empress Maria Theresa (Clive).
Other tours followed, and as Mozart grew up, he played for many famous figures such as King Louis XV, and continued to compose pieces. Mozart’s first opera was composed in 1769, called La Finta Simplice, which was not performed due to factions in the Viennese court (Clive). Though he constantly composed for many different musical genres like operas and singspiels during his childhood tours across Europe, it was only in 1769, after his seventh year of constant touring, that he began to make a name for himself as a composer. His first patronage was under the court of the archbishop of Salzburg.
During this time, Mozart travelled to Italy and met composer Niccolo Piccini (Clive) who encouraged young Mozart to write the opera Mithridate, Re di Ponto, which was performed in Italy and was a tremendous success, causing Mozart to frequently return to Italy and become influenced by the culture there. Mozart soon began to look for a patron in a more prominent city to escape from the archbishop of Salzburg, who treated him little better than a servant. During this time, in 1779, his mother passed away. A conflict between Mozart and the archbishop forced Mozart to ask to be released from commitment to the archbishop, and he then moved to Vienna. His father opposed this decision, and this led to a break in the father son relation. In Vienna, Mozart began work as a piano teacher and received commissions for new compositions, including his most well-known opera, The Marriage of Figaro in late 1785 to early 1786; it premiered in May 1786 and was well received.
Following the Marriage of Figaro, Mozart composed Don Giovanni as a commission from the Bohemian government. He then accepted a position as kammermusikus, or chamber musician, in Vienna (Clive). 3 years later in 1789, Mozart traveled to eastern Germany and Bohemia, during which he was commissioned by Prussian king Frederick William II to write a series of string quartets, which became known as the Prussian Quartets. Mozart then traveled back to Vienna and write two more operas: Cosi Fan Tutte and La Clemenza di Tito (which was for a Bohemian patron, and one of his last compositions). At age 21, Mozart fell in love with 16 year old Aloysia Weber, but she was married, so Mozart courted her sister Constanze instead and married her in August 1782. Despite his decent salary from the Viennese court, the family constantly had financial problems, created partly by Mozart’s lavish lifestyle and loans from friends. Leopold Mozart died in 1787, and following his father’s death, Mozart became ill and his condition only deteriorated for the next few years. Despite his weak physiology, Mozart continued to compose until his death on December 5, 1791, in Vienna (Clive). The exact cause of his death is still unknown to present day.
Antonin Leopold Dvorak was born in Nelahozeves, Bohemia, in September 8, 1941- almost a century after Mozart’s birth (Butterworth). He was raised in an area mostly with peasant farmers and tradesman, so he did not grow up with economic privilege. Nevertheless, he still had musical training from village teachers, learning the viola and organ first. With clear talent in music, Dvorak began studying at the Prague Organ School from 1857 for two years. Dvorak gained his initial recognition as a violist rather than a composer, and caught the attention of composer Karel Komzak. As lead violist, Dvorak and his orchestra joined Bedrich Smetana’s Provisional Theatre (Butterworth). During this time, Dvorak gained some extra money by giving private lessons to wealthy children and playing organ in a Prague church called St. Adalbert’s; most of this money was sent back home to his poor family. In 1873, Dvorak’s life changed as he married Anna Cermakova and decided to become a professional composer.
Using a stipend that the Austrian government gave their competitive artists to help devote themselves to art, Dvorak spent his time composing a variety of works including operas, songs, and symphonies. One of the judges of the stipend committee, composer Johannes Brahms, introduced Dvorak to his publisher in Berlin, Fritz Simrock. Simrock, who was also impressed by Dvorak’s work, released Dvorak’s Moravian Duets in 1876 and Slavonic Dances in 1878, which were quickly popular. Dvorak’s fame as a composer subsequently increased, and he gained an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University in England (Butterworth). Dvorak’s pieces were performed throughout Europe.
In 1891, Dvorak began teaching composition at the Prague Conservatory until he was invited to become director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, where he taught students how to integrate their nation’s folk music into classical music. He also wrote his famous New World Symphony during his time in America as he travelled around the country. Dvorak was a very celebrated musician and composer in the United States during this time. 3 years later, Dvorak returned to Prague and was hailed as a cultural icon of the Austrian Empire, and continued to compose many pieces. Throughout his life, Dvorak composed sixteen string quartets, ten operas, nine symphonic pieces, and a variety of cantatas, ballads, choir works, and songs. Despite this impressive collection of compositions, Dvorak lacked money management and struggled financially in his later life; he was nearly penniless when he died in Prague on May 1, 1904.
Mozart’s life took place in a fairly tumultuous time in world history, with both the Seven Years’ War and American Revolution taking place entirely in his life span, and with the French Revolution and subsequent power shifts in Europe taking place in his later years. Mere years before his birth was the War of Austrian Succession, in which Maria Theresa fought for her title as ruler of the Hapsburg lands, which included Vienna and Salzburg, where Mozart and his father worked.
However, despite this chaos throughout the European continent, Mozart had a steady stream of commissions from a variety of political figures, including Austria’s Maria Theresa herself and Prussia’s Frederick William II. Nevertheless, Mozart’s work was clearly influenced by the culture and politics of his time, as demonstrated by Marriage in Figaro, which was a retelling of a popular French play by Pierre Beaumarchais or by his commissioned works, which varied based on which country’s court asked for it, and what exactly the commission was for. In addition, the immense popularity of opera as a pastime in Europe during this time period most likely influenced Mozart to write a number of operatic works, which also varied in the various styles that were popular in Europe, including opera buffa such as Marriage in Figaro, Don Giovanni, etc. or opera seria, including Idomeneo, and Singspiel (Wolfgang).
Similarly to contemporary composers in the 19th century including Frederic Chopin, Dvorak was driven by nationalism (Headington). While Mozart primarily utilized Baroque styles and Italian influences in his music, Dvorak combined folk music from his native Czechoslovakia and the heritage of the Slavs with classical techniques. He was inspired by the folk tradition of the Czech countryside (like his birthplace) and the larger tradition of Slavic peasantry. By combining these styles with Russian, Polish, and Moravian styles, Dvorak elevated his version of traditional classical music by including odd new folk melodies and Slavic harmonic modes. Despite the unusual influences and folk styles, or rather, perhaps, because of them, Dvorak’s music was played throughout Europe and was very popular (Butterworth).
New technological innovations during Dvorak’s lifetime also played a large role in the spread of Dvorak’s music. New telecommunications devices made such as the telegram and later the telephone made it much easier to spread information, ideas, and music to farther and farther areas of the globe, probably helping Dvorak’s works to spread even across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. Dvorak’s time and experiences in the United States also impacted the compositions that he wrote there, most notably in String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, also known as the “American Quartet” and his famous Symphony No. 9, also known as the “New World Symphony”, in which “New World” referred to the United States. Interestingly enough, both of these above pieces held stylistic elements of Native American and African American music, bringing a parallel to Dvorak’s usage of Czech and Slavic folk styles into more traditional classical writing.
These elements were more prevalent and obvious in the American Quartet than the New World Symphony, but is nevertheless present in both (String). Both Dvorak and Mozart utilized music styles from places they either lived in or visited, with Dvorak utilizing American and Slavic styles, and with Mozart utilizing Italian styles (many of his symphonies are Italian overtures) and his operas (opera buffa), along with simple, light music with cadencing in London and Italy (Wolfgang). Ultimately, no matter the time period or location, both Mozart and Dvorak were influenced by the places they visited and their experiences in those place, as they included stylistic elements of their predecessors and music styles all around Europe, or even the world.