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‘As a solo instrument it isn't much good’
In one of the more substantial reminiscences of Dvořák by a pupil, Ludmila Vojáčková-Wechte retailed the composer's feelings regarding the cello:
‘the cello’, Dvořák said, ‘is a beautiful instrument, but its place is in the orchestra and in chamber music. As a solo instrument it isn't much good. Its middle register is fine – that's true – but the upper voice squeaks and the lower growls.The finest solo-instrument, after all, is – and will remain – the violin. I have also written a 'cello-concerto, but am sorry to this day I did so, and I never intend to write another. I wouldn't have written that one had it not been for Professor Wihan. He kept buzzing it into me and reminding me of it, till it was done. I am sorry to this day for it!’
Faced with this extraordinary revelation about Dvořák's attitude towards one of his greatest works, the astonished reader can at first only echo Ludmila Vojáčková-Wechte's interpretation of his comments: ‘Maybe this opinion was meant more for the actual “squeaky and grumpy” instrument, than for the composition’. Another possible reaction to his comments is that Dvořák was pulling the leg of a naïve composition pupil; the composer had a sarcastic streak which, as many of his wards found to their cost, he was more than happy to unleash on the unwary.
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