Although the reputation of ANTONIN DVORAK is still extremely warm, it may seem to one hearing (or playing) the Piano Quintet that his reputation could hardly be warm enough. It is a spectacularly beautiful piece. Dvoràk wrote the quintet in 1887, in about a month and a half. Dvoràk has always been quite popular. He was well known world-wide during his lifetime, and had the professional support of Brahms, Hans von Bülow, and the publisher Simrock. As can well be imagined, his popularity with audiences was not always echoed by critics, who felt, or thought they felt, a lack of profundity in the tuneful atmospheres he could create. Even Brahms, who supported his career steadfastly, tended to describe Dvoràk as his own light opposite.
As the piano quintet makes clear, however, Dvoràk’s popularity was by no means the product of compositional simplification. And although he may be regarded sometimes as having been a ‘naive’ composer, since his music moves so naturally, it appears that his outlook was at least as international, cosmopolitan, and modern as his more formalist patron Brahms. It could well be argued that his folk interests, and even his popularity, were politically progressive, and they seem particularly so in light of his lengthy – and serious – involvement with the multivalent music and democratic culture of the United States. The piano quintet is in four movements: Allegro ma non tanto; ‘Dumka’ (a melancholy song); Scherzo (Furiant); and Finale: Allegro. It will likely be its own best explanation.