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Erben, Karel Jaromir (1811 – 1870)

Notable Czech poet, historian, translator and collector of Czech folk songs and fairy tales. His collection of ballads Bouquet became a sensation soon after its first publication (1853, Prague). The ballads enjoyed considerable popularity in the Czech patriotic environment for their close affinity with Czech folk literature and in subsequent years saw a large number of editions (in Dvorak’s lifetime alone the collection was published fourteen times; the number of editions has exceeded 160 to date). Dvorak had a particular fondness for Erben’s works and he was inspired by them several times in his own compositions: in 1871 he wrote musical settings for Erben’s poems “Rosemary” and “The Orphan’s Bed” (the second of these was ultimately the most extensive of his song oeuvre); thirteen years later, he wrote the lengthy cantata The Spectre’s Bride, basing his work on another ballad from Bouquet; and in 1896 he turned out a loose cycle of four symphonic poems entitled The Water Goblin, The Noon Witch, The Golden Spinning Wheel and The Wild Dove. According to British musicologist Gerald Abraham, Erben’s influence may also be traced in the composer’s Legends – in some of the parts the musical themes faithfully evoke Erben’s verse.
The roots of Dvorak’s fascination with Erben’s poetry probably lie in his flawless comprehension of their particular colour and rhythm, in his identification with the moral principles for whose violation Erben’s heroes must pay, and in his enchantment with the Czech fairy-tale world the poet was able to conjure up in his works.