Antonín Dvořák is arguably the second most notable composer from the Czech Republic, after Bedřich Smetana, to reach worldwide acclaim. Both are well-known for their nationalist style and employment of folk music in their compositions.
Originally written for voice and piano in 1880, “Songs my mother taught me” is the fourth song from Gypsy Songs, B.104, Op. 55. It has become one of the most popular and often performed songs from the seven-song cycle. Such is the popularity of the song that in addition to being frequently recorded by a number of well-known singers, there have been numerous instrumental arrangements regularly performed and recorded by musicians including Fritz Kreisler, Julian Lloyd Webber, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell. Given the cello’s naturally lyrical and emotive qualities it is particularly well suited to take on the vocal line in the song.
The Gypsy Songs were composed around the same time as Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances (1878-1886). The original version for piano 4-hands, sold well, and the series of 16 orchestral pieces (Op. 46 and Op72) raised Dvorak’s international reputation. “Songs My Mother Taught Me” demonstrates all of Dvorak’s supreme talent for combining nationalistic folk influences with romantic, lyrical melodies.
While the poems that provide the lyrics for the song cycle were originally written in Czech, and translated into German for the song settings, English versions of the lyrics are also sometimes performed. The performance translation of the lyrics for Songs My Mother Taught Me are as follows:
Songs my mother taught me, in the days long vanished;
Seldom from her eyelids were the teardrops banished.
Now I teach my children each melodious measure.
Oft the tears are flowing, oft they flow from my memory’s treasure.
This work will be performed by Clare Kahn (cello) and Benjamin Burton (piano) as part of our Songs My Mother Taught Me concert on Saturday 12 May, 6.00 pm at Christ Church Lavender Bay. Tickets are available at www.trybooking.com/ULQX or at the door.