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Prior to the publication of the Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, Dvořák was a relatively unknown composer. Because of this fact, he had applied for the Austrian State Music Prize scholarship in order to fund his compositional work. After he won the prize 3 times in 4 years (1874, 1876-77), Johannes Brahms, as one of the members of the committee responsible for awarding the scholarship, referred Dvořák to his own publisher, Fritz Simrock. The first of Dvořák’s music to be published by Simrock was the Moravian Duets, which attained widespread success; encouraged, Simrock asked the composer to write something with a dance-like character.
Unsure how to begin, Dvořák used Brahms’s Hungarian Dances as a model — but only as a model; there are a number of important differences between the two works. For example, whereas Brahms made use of actual Hungarian folk melodies, Dvořák only made use of the characteristic rhythms of Slavic folk music: the melodies are entirely his own. Simrock was immediately impressed by the music Dvořák produced (originally for piano four hands), and asked the composer for an orchestral version as well. Both versions were published within the year, and quickly established Dvořák’s international reputation. The enormous success of the Opus 46 dances led Simrock to request another set of Slavonic Dances in 1886; Dvořák’s subsequent Opus 72 dances met with a similar reception.
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