Four Miniatures for 2 Violins and Viola, Op.75a, B.149
You might think by looking at the opus number that the Miniatures for 2 Violins and Viola, composed in 1887, were an arrangement of Opus 75. Not so. In fact, Opus 75, which is for violin and piano, is an arrangement of Opus 75a and was composed immediately after and titled 4 Romantic Pieces. Dvorak submitted the arrangement to his publisher Simrock but forgot about the original version which was only rediscovered in 1938 and published for the first time 1945. The Miniatures were composed immediately after his better known Op.74 Terzetto also for 2 Violins and Viola. That two compositions for this rather unusual combination were written one after another can be explained as follows: Dvorak, at the time, had been living in his mother in-law's house. She had rented out a room to a chemistry student who was an amateur violinist, one Josef Kruis. Dvorak, a viola player, often heard Kruis playing duets with his violin teacher and conceived the idea to write a trio so that he could join in. The result was the Op.74 Terzetto. However, it proved too difficult for Kruis, so Dvorak sat down to write a less demanding work, which he called Miniatures.
It was no onerous task as one can tell from an excerpt of a letter he wrote to Simrock: “...I am writing little miniatures – just imagine – for two violins and viola, and I enjoy the work as much as if I were writing a large symphony..." The pleasure Dvorak took in crafting these pieces is obvious in every bar. The first movement, Moderato, is entitled Cavatina. The beautiful theme is played over rhythmic ostinato accompaniment in the second violin while the viola performs the the job of the bass. Next comes a Poco Allegro, entitled Capriccio. Faster and with, sudden dynamic changes, the mood is restless and unsettling. The third movement, Allegro, subtitled Romance is a long-lined dreamy melody played over triplets in the second violin. The finale, Larghetto, Dvorak subtitled Elegy. In g minor, the theme creates an aura of sadness and even desperation.
Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) needs no introduction. He is one of the best known composers of all time. However, today, his fame rests upon only a few of his works which are repeatedly performed in concert. In the realm of chamber music, one hears his Op.96 string quartet, the American, so often, you might think it was the only work he ever wrote. Only very rarely does one get to hear anything else although so many of his chamber works are masterpieces. Both the somewhat better known Terzetto and these Miniatures fall into that category and deserve to be heard in concert.