Monday, February 14: Dvořák & the Skunk

The Bily Clock and Antonín Dvořák museums, Spillville

During his stay in America, Antonín Dvořák wanted see a skunk.

In 1893 Iowa, he got his chance.

A neighbor discovered the black-and-white, cat-sized animals holed up in a stack of straw. He started digging in the straw with a pitchfork; the skunks ran out and began their defensive tactic, spraying their famously penetrating, disgusting “aroma.”

“The composer was a slow walker but this time he shifted from low to high when he got a whiff of that perfume,” Frank Kapler, 13, told a local newspaper.

The spray missed Dvořák, but not Kapler. He had to stay away from people for four days until the odor was at least tolerable.

“Mother says if you don’t stink any more, you can come over to our house,” the youngest Dvořák daughter told Kapler by then. When he arrived at the Dvořák home, the composer laughed at him.

“I told him it was too bad the skunk didn’t baptize him instead of me,” Kapler said. “That made him laugh all the more.”

Far from being a stuffy, serious man, Dvořák enjoyed meeting his Spillville, Iowa neighbors, many of them originally Czech, and asking them about their experiences as immigrants. The composer usually got up at 4 o’clock every morning, and went rambling off to explore nearby streams, fields, and forests.

Today, the building where he and his family stayed that summer is a museum dedicated to both Dvořák and to two Czech clock makers.

His String Quartet in F Major, completed in less than 2 weeks in June 1893, synthesizes his Iowa impressions and experiences into a masterpiece, one of his most beloved and well-recognized works still today.oo

–Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Barb Matz

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