Known especially for his New World Symphony and Slavonic Dances, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák wrote a song about motherhood for piano and voice that has become a standard for opera singers around the world.
In “Songs My Mother Taught Me” the singer reminisces about music passed from one generation to the next. The short art song is the most famous of Dvořák’s seven “Gypsy Songs” composed in 1880.
That year, a leading tenor at Vienna’s Court Opera asked Dvořák to write a vocal work especially for him. Dvořák created a musical setting for the romantic “Gypsy Melodies,” a collection of poetry by the Czech writer Adolf Heyduk.
All of the “Gypsy Songs” were well-received. But the fourth song in the cycle, “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” remains popular to this day. It’s been part of the standard repertoire of opera singers from Joan Sutherland to Paul Robeson to Renée Fleming.
The poem was written in Czech. It was translated into German for the first performance of the song cycle; an English translation soon followed. Here are the moving lyrics to “Songs My Mother Taught Me.”
Songs my mother taught me
In the days long vanish’d
Seldom from her eyelids
Were the teardrops banish’d
Now I teach my children
Each melodious measure
Oft the tears are flowing
Oft they flow from my mem’ry treasure
The song has been recorded numerous times and has been arranged for strings, piano and orchestra. Among the performers who’ve embraced it? Charlotte Church, Joshua Bell and Yo-Yo Ma, who recorded it with pianist Kathryn Stott for their album Songs From the Arc of Life.