I know it’s a little bit on the geeky side of classical music, but the recent discovery in New York of Antoine Dvorak’s American contract for employment has been a fascinating find. Right off the bat we learn that coming to the new world (1892-93) was a HUGE payday for the Czech composer. His new position in New York was to make him twenty-five times more money than he was receiving back home in Prague. This explains how and why this family man was able to pull himself away from his clan for such a long stretch of time. It’s a handwritten contract with the exact numbers spelled out right there in the paperwork; $15K a year for two years. His teaching schedule and conducting duties were detailed as well. Included was his vacation schedule which allowed him to head west one summer and write one of the most famous string quartets of all time (the String Quartet #12; The American Quartet) while he visited a Czech village settlement in Iowa.
Despite being incredibly homesick for Prague as well as lonely for his wife and kids, this newly revealed document spells out the day to day arrangements for this most creative period from one of the true composing greats of the 19th century. It was here in the United States in 1892 that the famous New World Symphony (#9) as well as his String Quartet were written. The document went on display this week at the Bohemian National Hall in New York City. Musicians are famous for getting stung by bad deals and signing horrible contracts, yet this one looks as if it was a pretty good deal for Mr. Dvorak.