Being Dvořák – An afternoon with the grandson of the Master
By Hannah Burns & Kylie Naughton
There’s a private villa that lies atop a hill in Vysoká, a small village near the town of Příbram, some sixty kilometers south of Prague. It is desolate, but well kept, surrounded by greenery and countryside charm. It’s peaceful but powerful; something great happened here. A turn of the key, and we enter Antonín Dvořák’s Vysoká.
This plot of land was the famed Czech composer’s prized possession. The musical mastermind spent a significant amount of time here, and it served as a sanctuary of inspiration for many of his works, including one of his most famous operas—Rusalka, for which he also named the villa. Now, it serves as a memorial to the master classical composer, holding every artifact from his life, the extraordinary story told through his grandson, Antonín Dvorak III.
Dvorak III resides a stone’s throw away from the villa at Vysoká, in Příbram. He is a reincarnation of the Dvořák himself, with the same name and all—beyond looks, he has the modesty, charm and passion that one can imagine of the first Antonín Dvořák. However, Antonín Dvořák III’s story of triumph is a bit different—but we’ll get to that later.
At the Rusalka villa, Dvořák III leads us into the mudroom, where flyers and pamphlets printed with Dvořák’s name line the walls. All of the composer’s belongings and furniture remain here, from the piano on which he composed his Symphony Number 8 to his desk, still lined with his books and other means of inspiration, his bed and even the chair on which he took his last breath.
Antonín Dvořák was a family man and father to nine children whose career as a musician was, at first, mostly practical. As he developed as a composer, so did widespread appreciation for his work, and in the 1890s, Dvořák traveled to New York City. The new world inspired his music, and in hand, his music inspired much of America. Here, he was founding director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, where he taught, wrote, composed, and ultimately spread his brilliance all over the country.
Eventually, Dvořák longed for his home, and he found respite in Spillville after being invited to spend three months there with his secretary’s family. The small farm town in northern Iowa was a place where many Bohemian Czechs had settled earlier in the 19th century, and its small-town, countryside charm was reminiscent of his home in Bohemia.
Dvořák and his family were well-recognized in Spillville, and it became a place that he held close to his heart. When his grandson was invited there in the ‘90s, after the Velvet Revolution, he was recognized as an honorary citizen of Spillville. Dvořák III keeps the framed certificate in his home—something he holds close to his heart, and connects him with his late grandfather.
The superiority of Antonín Dvořák is written in history, but the remaining legacy is found beyond the awards and international acclaim in the often-untold tale of his grandson.
Coming of age under the communist regime, Dvořák III spent most of his adult life working in the mining industry, unaware of the legacy behind his own name. Communism shadowed the fame and acclaimed success of his predecessor, since it might have been threatening to the communist scheme of uniformity for the Dvořák family to live out the legacy of the famous composer. Dvořák III lived most of his life unaware of the respect his name had earned over the years.
In fact, until the liberation in 1989, Antonín Dvořák III was just, simply, a miner of southern Bohemia. “I only knew that my name was Antonín Dvořák, but nothing more,” he says, but with a smile.
Now, Dvořák III travels the world carrying out his grandfather’s legacy. Simply and tastefully, he is grateful for what he knows now, was honored to share his grandfather’s glory with us, and gladly spreads the love to anyone who passes through Příbram.