In June 1893, Dvořák and his family travelled from New York to the rural settlement of Spillville in north-east Iowa - a community inhabited by immigrant Czechs. Months earlier Dvořák had taken up the Directorship at the National Conservatory of Music of America, but his time in New York was marred by bouts of nostalgia and homesickness. In Spillville, however, he felt very much at home, and took great delight in being able to greet and chat with the townsfolk in his native language. For their part, the men and women of Spillville were delighted too when Dvořák sat at the organ and led the music at the town’s little church of St. Wenceslas.
In Spillville, Dvořák immediately set about composing a new string quartet - finishing the sketch in three days. Within a fortnight the score was complete, and he wrote in the manuscript, “Thanks to the Lord God. I am content. It went quickly.” The quartet was later given the title “American” and serves as a pleasant reminder of that wonderful holiday the Dvořáks spent with their countrymen in Spillville, Iowa.
The American Quartet is American really only in name and has few (if any) discernible American influences, yet it is one of Dvořák’s most joyous works.
(Notes by Roger Smith)
Recorded in the Hunter Council Chamber, Wellington in August 2016 by RNZ