You may not know his name, but you've probably heard his music.
Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony contains some of the catchiest tunes in the classical music repertoire. The Czech-born composer was best known for synthesizing European folk melodies into his music. After an extended stay in New York in the late 1800s, Dvorak incorporated traditional American and African American tunes as well.
If Dvorak's father had had his way, his son would have entered the family business: butchery. Dvorak was the eldest of nine surviving children, born in the region then known as Bohemia. Despite his father's wishes for him, the boy showed musical talent early, and he was nurtured by the village music teachers.
According to cellist and Classical KING FM host Dave Beck, Dvorak impressed composer Johannes Brahms, who was on a jury for a music contest the young Dvorak had entered. Brahms recommended Dvorak to his own music publishing house, and the aspiring composer's career took off.
Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot is featuring Dvorak in a mini-festival of concerts through the month of September. Beck says Morlot loves "authentic, innovative voices" and that Dvorak fits that description perfectly.
More than that, Beck says Dvorak's music holds natural ties to audiences in the Pacific Northwest.
"I hear it in the sense of landscape," Beck says.
Although Dvorak lived in Manhattan during his time in the U.S., he did spend time in Iowa, at a town populated by Czech émigrés. Beck says that time profoundly influenced the composer's subsequent compositions.
"There's this sense of place, of birds singing, of beautiful countryside that permeates his music," he says.
Seattle Symphony Orchestra will feature the music of Antonin Dvorak in concerts throughout September.