Antonín Dvořák was born near Prague in 1841, then part of Bohemia, in the Austrian Empire. He was an impoverished music teacher and composer until winning the Austrian State Prize in 1874, and again in 1877. His prolific output of folk-inspired music captivated some and repelled others. Promoted by Johannes Brahms in particular, Dvořák’s compositions were hailed in Prague and Vienna. By 1882, his works had captivated London, and a series of concerts with the Royal Symphony followed.

As Dvorak's fame spread, Boston caught the fever. The Cecilia, as it was then called, was accustomed to a steady fare of German and English compositions and programmed his new works beginning with his Stabat Mater (American premiere) in its eighth season, in 1884. This was repeated in 1885 and followed in 1886 by The Spectre's Bride. Audiences and critics were mostly enthusiastic, and these pieces and Dvořák's Patriotic Hymn saw a total of nine performances through 1891.

In 1892, Dvorak secured a sponsored chair at New York's National Conservatory of Music. Most biographies note that his princely salary of $15,000 was half again as much as that of the mayor of New York. Dvořák had come to the United States, he said, to learn about the roots of genuinely American music. His inquiries would lead him to African-American sources, including the spiritual which supposedly inspired the "Goin' Home" theme in his New World Symphony. He also spent a summer composing in a Czech immigrant community in Iowa.

In November of 1892, he came to Boston to conduct Cecilia in the Boston premiere of his Requiem. Margaret Ruthven Lang, daughter of founder and music director B. J. Lang, chronicled these first 30 years and reported on the visit. Cecilia was at that time a subscription organization, with no tickets sold separately. However, its habit was to perform a Monday evening Wage Earner's Concert before each Wednesday concert.

When Dvořák was told of this, he wrote in a letter, "December 1 will be for the wealthy and intelligenzia, but the preceding day my work will also be performed for poor workers who earn $18 per week, the purpose being to give the poor and uneducated the musical works of all times and nations. That's something, isn't it? I am looking forward to it like a child."

The performance was evidently not problem-free. While reviewers called Dvořák "simple, modest, a man of great talent," he was also "almost entirely lacking in personal magnetism, [with] little force to control either singers or musicians." Another wrote, "Now and again there was false intonation, but if a composer insists on writing ear-baffling and voice-trying intervals, he must take the consequences." One defender seized on a colleague's term of "barbarous" as "Boston slang for 'Slavic' or 'not German.'" Evidently, reviewing was as much a performance art as was music-making.

Over the next four years, Cecilia performed Dvořák pieces (including his Eia Mater) just twice. The Dvořák craze had subsided. But with time Bostonians' ears were less baffled and voices less tried by the intervals Dvorak composed. Today it is hard to imagine his Mass in D Major as perplexing. Modern voices and ears will perceive the music in Cecilia's October 19th performance with a modern sensibility, to hear its beauty, as originally written for organ, choir, and solo voices.



Catch this SoundCloud preview of Take Him Earth for Cherishing by Herbert Howells, from our upcoming concert, Endlesse Perfectnesse: Music for All Souls on November 2nd, 2013.

Honoring the souls of the departed, the concert's centerpiece is the Durufle Requiem.  

Nicholas White will make his debut as Cecilia's new Music Director at this concert.  Soloists are organist Barbara Bruns, cellist Sam Ou, and contralto Emily Marvosh.

Concert is at 8PM at All Saints Parish in Brookline, MA.

Ticket information can be found here.



Greetings, and welcome to The Boston Cecilia Blog!

We are about to begin the final few audition sessions for The Boston Cecilia, as we start our exciting 138th season of concerts. Having just recently been through the three year search process that resulted in me taking on the enviable position of Music Director, I feel qualified in talking about the audition process!

What are we looking for in a new singer? What will be asked of you? Why would you subject yourself to any form of scrutiny? Let me offer some answers to those questions.

Every effort is made to put you at ease. After all, we want to hear your voice at its most relaxed and free. We are looking for voices with personality, but voices that also work well in a choral texture. The ability to blend with fellow singers is crucial. The ability to read music well- a skill that is all too often lacking these days – is highly desirable, as is the willingness and ability to learn your part outside of rehearsals. A good sense of humor and a commitment to energetic teamwork is a must. All of these skills are worked on and developed during rehearsals, but they are good prerequisites.

The audition will start with some vocalizing for a light warm-up and a general idea of vocal range.  This will be followed by some sight-reading (on one’s own voice part) and finish with singing a piece that you have prepared for the audition, if you have one. Our assistant conductor, Barbara Bruns, will be there to accompany your piece, so bring an extra copy of your music if you would like an accompanist.

Auditioning for Cecilia is the first step towards being involved with performing Cecilia's diverse and rich repertoire. This coming season features some of my very favorite choral works. We begin on November 2nd with Maurice Duruflé’s sublime Requiem, along with works by Stanford and Harris and Herbert Howells’ incredible setting of the poem Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing. On December 6th and 8th the concerts will feature glorious music for the Christmas season, including Ave Rex by William Mathias and deeply touching carols by Warlock, Leighton, Dirksen, Pearsall and others. The most thrilling concert is saved for March 21st – J.S. Bach’s birthday – when we will present Bach’s Mass in B Minor with period instrument orchestra at NEC’s Jordan Hall. I couldn’t be more excited and energized to get working on this repertoire!

So, if you are a singer looking for your next challenge, why not consider joining us? There is still time to sign up. Rehearsals begin on Monday September 9th at 7:30pm, but we are still hearing potential chorus members well into September. Perhaps The Boston Cecilia is the next stop on your musical journey? Visit our Auditions page for more information or give us a call at 617-232-4540.