Lesson #236: Dvorak’s Insufficient Cello

I ran across an interesting tidbit today that, when googled, popped up 20 sites all used the exact same wording, none of them citing anything. That’s weird. That’s a lot weird. I figured out fairly quickly that they were all plagiarizing the liner notes for the Virgin Records release of French cellist Gautier Capucon playing Dvorak (and Herbert, but he’s incidental to the whole thing)’s cello concertos.

Anyway, I read this afternoon that Dvorak considered the cello to be insufficient for a starring role in a concerto. I find that funny given the brilliance of his Cello Concerto in B Minor. In reality, the Cello Concerto was the last concerto Dvorak composed before his death in 1904, so it was the only cello concerto he ever wrote. However, in 1865, he had begun composition on a Cello Concerto in A Major that remained unfinished.

According to the liner notes, the concerto was composed in 1894-5 while Dvorak was in his third term as Director of the National Conservatory in New York. “Up till then Dvorák had always refused, stating that the cello was a fine orchestral instrument but totally insufficient for a solo concerto.”

There is also a brief mention of Dvorak’s cello concerto trepidation in Michael Steinberg’s book The Concerto: A Listener’s Guide. Although it makes no mention of Dvorak finding the instrument “insufficient”, it does note that he had “always been distrustful of the cello’s upper range, which he found thin and nasal.”*

*That can be found here on page 182.

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