Movement 1: Allegro non tanto
Movement 2: Allegro vivo
Movement 3: Larghetto
Movement 4: Finale: Allegro giusto
During Dvorák’s stay in Spillville the settlement was visited by a group of North American Indians of the Kickapoo tribe, led by Big Moon and his wife, Large Head. They came to sell medicinal herbs and stayed for several days performing their songs and dances to the delight of Dvorák and his hosts.
Exactly how much this experience influenced the composition of the Quintet is conjectural, and could easily be overstated; however, there is little doubt that the composer was fascinated by what he heard and that it had at least some effect on the music he was writing at the time.
The Quintet opens with a solo melody for the extra player, the second viola, but it is another subject which forms the main material for the development section, a melody based on an Indian song Dvorák heard at Spillville. A strangely sad episode featuring the two violas is heard before the shortened recapitulation.
The succeeding scherzo is quite excellent and uses a theme in the trio section reminiscent of one heard in the slow movement of the ‘New World’ Symphony. It is also of similar character to the viola theme which forms the basis for the variations in the Sextet. The third movement, a Larghetto theme and five variations, leaves the exotic atmosphere of Indian music for that of simple devotion. The subject of the variations is half in the major and half in the minor, ingeniously composed. The music returns in the end to the unadorned theme. Whilst the presence of Beethoven may be felt in the variation movement, the Finale’s main theme is noticeably similar to one of Schubert’s in the Finale of the latter’s Trio in E flat, D929, and indeed to a theme of Smetana’s in his G minor Trio. Though interesting to observe, such references to the works of others do nothing to detract from Dvorák’s achievements in this Quintet. His own individual qualities are fully able to withstand any criticism that might be engendered in this connection by those unable to appreciate the true genius of this genial man.
from notes by Peter Lamb © 1988