Humoresques (Czech: Humoresky), Op. 101 (B. 187), is a piano cycle by the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, written during the summer of 1894. One writer says "the seventh Humoresque is probably the most famous small piano work ever written after Beethoven's Für Elise."
During his stay in America, when Dvořák was director of the Conservatory in New York from 1892 to 1895, the composer collected many interesting musical themes in his sketchbooks. He used some of these ideas in other compositions, notably the "From the New World" Symphony, the "American" String Quartet, the Quintet in E Flat Major, and the Sonatina for Violin, but some remained unused.
In 1894 Dvořák spent the summer with his family in Bohemia, at Vysoká u Příbrami. During this "vacation", Dvořák began to use the collected material and to compose a new cycle of short piano pieces. On 19 July 1894 Dvořák sketched the first Humoresque in B major, today number 6 in the cycle. However, the composer soon started to create scores for the pieces that were intended to be published. The score was completed on 27 August 1894.
The publisher took advantage of the great popularity of the seventh Humoresque to produce arrangements for many instruments and ensembles. The piece was later also published as a song with various lyrics. It has also been arranged for choir. The melody was also used as the theme of Slappy Squirrel in the popular animated television show Animaniacs. In 2004 the vocal group Beethoven's Wig used Humoresque as the basis for a song entitled Dvořák the Czechoslovak.
The cycle consists of eight pieces:
- Vivace (E♭ minor)
- Poco andante (B major)
- Poco andante e molto cantabile (A♭ major)
- Poco andante (F major)
- Vivace (A minor)
- Poco allegretto (B major)
- Poco lento e grazioso (G♭ major)
- Poco andante—Vivace–Meno mosso, quasi Tempo I (B minor)
The main theme of the first Humoresque was sketched in New York on New Year's Eve 1892, with the inscription "Marche funèbre" (sic). The minor theme was accompanied with the inscription "people singing in the street". The opening theme of the fourth piece was also sketched in New York, among ideas intended for the unrealized opera Hiawatha. The "American" style is also apparent in other themes of the Humoresques.
Arranged for viola and piano by Elias Goldstein, performed by Elias Goldstein (viola) and Monica Pavel (piano)
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"Passengers will please refrain..."
In the United States, Dvořák's Humoresque Number 7 became the setting for a series of mildly scatological humorous verses, regarding passenger train toilets, beginning: "Passengers will please refrain from flushing toilets while the train is standing in the station". The tune together with these words has achieved the status of a "traditional" folk song, often entitled simply "Humoresque". As with all folk art, there are many variations and innumerable verses, often describing troublesome bathroom predicaments and unlikely solutions.
The story of Amtrak waste disposal brings to mind an amusing song of 40 to 50 years ago. I have no idea who wrote the lyrics but they were sung to the tune of Dvorak's 'Humoresque.'
A sign over the toilet contained a memorable warning, and all of us children sang its words to the melody of Dvorak's Humoresque...
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas claimed that the humorous lyrics to Dvořák's music were the work of himself and of Yale law professor Thurman Arnold. The Erotic Muse: American Bawdy Songs says that
Sometime in the early 1930s, according to his autobiography, Go East, Young Man (pp. 171-72), William O. Douglas and fellow Yale law school professor Thurman Arnold were riding the New Haven Railroad and were inspired by a sign in the toilet. "Thurman and I got the idea of putting these memorable words to music, and Thurman quickly came up with the musical refrain from Humoresque."
According to this source, the actual wording of the train restroom placard was "Passengers will please refrain from flushing toilets while the train is standing in or passing through a station".
- Edith Lorand Chamber Orchestra with violin solo by Edith Lorand. Recorded on February 12, 1932. Released in Germany on the 78 rpm record Parlophon B 48161.
- New Light Symphony Orchestra. Recorded in New York City on December 30, 1933. It was released by Victor Records as catalogue number 44344 (in USA) and by EMI on the HMV Records label as catalogue number B 3926.
- The music for the computer game Jet Set Willy is based on the main melody.
- David Hurwitz (2005). Dvořák: Romantic Music's Most Versatile Genius. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-57467-107-0., p. 112
- Score, p. VII
- Score, p. VI
- Score, p. VI
- "Humoresque". "The Digital Tradition". Retrieved 2010-05-09.
- Betty Johnston (1989-08-20). "Please refrain". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-05-08.
- Isabel Currier (1941). The young and the immortal. Alfred A. Knopf.
- Frances Cheston Train (2008). In Those Days: A Carolina Plantation Remembered. The History Press. ISBN 978-1-59629-394-6.
- Ed Cray (1999). The Erotic Muse: American Bawdy Songs. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-06789-1.
- Dvořák, Antonin. Humoresky. Critical Edition. (score) Prague: Bärenreiter Editio Supraphon, 1955. H 1274.
- 8 Humoresques: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Free sheet music of Humoresque No. 7 for piano from Cantorion.org
- Free sheet music of Humoresque No. 7 for violin and piano from Cantorion.org
- Video: played by the Slovak Chamber Orchestra at the 'Indian Summer in Levoca' Festival, 2008
- Info on the Piano Society web