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concerto for cello and piano 

COMPOSED completed 30 June 1865
PREMIERE - DATE AND PLACE 26 April 1929, Prague
PREMIERE - PERFORMER(S) Frantisek Berka (cello), Otakar Vondrovic (piano)
FIRST EDITION Editio Supraphon, 1975, Prague
MAIN KEY A major
1. Andante (att.)
2. Andante cantabile (att.)
3. Allegro risoluto
DURATION approx. 55 min.

composition and score history

24-year-old Dvorak wrote his first cello concerto – only with piano accompaniment – in 1865 for his colleague from the Provisional Theatre Orchestra, cellist Ludevit Peer, to whom the work is also dedicated. The concerto met the same fate as his Symphony No. 1 in C minor which originated in the same year: the score was soon lost and was only rediscovered long after the composer’s death. He finished the work on 30 June and, by the end of that summer, Peer had moved permanently to Germany; it appears that he took the score with him. As far as we are aware, Dvorak never went in search of it. It is possible that he regarded the concerto as something of a failure, or he may even have forgotten all about it, since he never included it on any of his subsequent lists of works. The autograph score was discovered sixty years later, in Germany in 1925. A private owner offered to sell the score to the Czech state but his price was too high and the transaction never took place; only a copy was made. Then, in 1930, the autograph was purchased from the owner by the British Museum in London, where it is kept to this day.


The concerto was subject to major and minor revisions on several occasions during the course of the 20th century:

 revision by Jan Burian

Professor at the Prague Conservatoire’s senior department Jan Burian made revisions to the cello part after which the work was performed in public for the very first time, at Municipal House in Prague on 26 April 1929.

 revision by Gunter Raphael

At the end of the 1920s German composer Gunter Raphael carried out his own revision of the work (published in 1929 by Leipzig firm Breitkopf and Hartel). Raphael arranged the piano part for large orchestra, he shortened the work drastically, intervened fundamentally in its structure and harmonic scheme, and even composed new sections based on Dvorak’s original thematic material. This revision is generally regarded as a disappointment and, above all, unauthentic. Nevertheless, it has its advocates, among them cellist Steven Isserlis, who characterises Raphael’s revision in the following words: “More compact than the original, the cello part more lyrical, the form less experimental; Raphael's aim was to discipline this student work while preserving the essential spirit of Dvorak's first thoughts.

 revision by Milos Sadlo and Jarmil Burghauser

During the 1970s the work was revised by the excellent Czech cellist Milos Sadlo, who modified the cello part and shortened the piece considerably. This version was then arranged for orchestra by leading Dvorak authority and composer Jarmil Burghauser. It is considered to reflect a more sensitive approach towards Dvorak’s original notation, and greater knowledge of his compositional style. Supraphon made a recording of this version in 1976 with Milos Sadlo as soloist.

general characteristics

This lengthy composition (lasting almost an hour) bears the typical traits of Dvorak’s early style influenced by the music of the German Neo-Romantics: the nonperiodic development of thematic ideas, the restless harmonies and the “Lisztian” merging of movements into one stream of music. In general, however, the work does not suggest “experimentation” in the same way as the group of chamber works from the late 1860s. The character of the thematic material in this case is a typical example of the lyricism and warmth familiar from the composer’s mature works. The greatest weakness of the concerto is its formal imbalance, particularly in both outer movements, which are drawn out to disproportionate lengths. The first movement features a long introduction in the piano; the cello doesn’t come in until the 137th bar. The movement has two basic themes within an extensive sonata-form scheme. The main subject reveals certain similarities with the main theme from Dvorak’s famous second Cello Concerto in B minor, which was written thirty years later. In contrast, the second subject (via a time signature change from 6/8 to 4/4) is taken from the first movement of Dvorak’s String Quartet in A major written three years earlier. The second movement – not even half the length of the outer movements – is a continuous, broad lyrical melody in the cello formed from two fundamental thematic ideas. The last movement is a traditional finale in flamboyant concertante style. It is marked as a rondo, although the form is conceived very loosely. The movement exposes a large number of essentially lively and rhythmical motivic elements, the majority of which are subject to extensive development and variation. The end of the movement in this early work betrays another trait typical of Dvorak as a mature composer: he quotes the theme from the introduction to the first movement. The piece ends unexpectedly in soft dynamics, and the main theme, which takes up the final few bars, fades away into silence.