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Antonin Dvorak is a leading representative of the group of composers whose work is characteristic for its Classical-Romantic synthesis. While he created a new, original language for his means of expression, his compositional structure was usually founded on traditional formal approaches established in high Classicism, specifically the use of sonata form (in its narrower and broader sense), rondo and variations, even in works inspired by subjects unrelated to music. Even though he was not a pioneer in this regard, he succeeded in introducing new elements into the traditional formal structure, in particular, by incorporating stylisations of the furiant [fiery Czech folk dance] in place of the scherzo within the sonata cycle, and the dumka configuration instead of the slow movement.
Like a series of other 19th century composers Dvorak sought inspiration from folk music in many of his works. For this he is often considered one of the representatives of the so-called national schools. Unlike the older Bedrich Smetana, who focused entirely on Czech folklore, Dvorak looked further afield, to the folk traditions of other Slav nations and, during his time in America, also to authentic African American and Native American music. Dvorak rarely ever cited folk music but, by studying it, he acquired an understanding of its characteristic traits, on whose basis he wrote his own music using the modern compositional techniques of his day.
Dvorak’s music is universally articulate and draws the listener with its sense of immediacy and spontaneity. Its greatest appeal lies in its striking melodies, rhythmical inventiveness and effective instrumentation. The composer’s works incorporate a broad palette of moods, from the joyful articulation of human happiness to expressions of intimacy and profound meditation. Lyricism is a distinctive trait of the majority of Dvorak’s compositions.