Humoresques (Dvořák)

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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."[1]


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 cycle was entitled Humoresques shortly before Dvořák sent the score to his German publisher F. Simrock. The composition was published by Simrock in Autumn, 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.[2] 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:

  1. Vivace (E♭ minor)
  2. Poco andante (B major)
  3. Poco andante e molto cantabile (A♭ major)
  4. Poco andante (F major)
  5. Vivace (A minor)
  6. Poco allegretto (B major)
  7. Poco lento e grazioso (G♭ major)
  8. 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).[3] 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.[4]

"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".[5] As with all folk art, there are many variations and innumerable verses, often describing troublesome bathroom predicaments and unlikely solutions.

A 1989 letter published in the Orlando Sentinel[6] refers to it:

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.'

This dating is consistent with the song's mention in a 1941 novel.[7] A 2008 memoir of 1930s life on a Carolina plantation[8] describes a railroad trip in a Pullman car and notes:

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[9] 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".



  1. David Hurwitz (2005). Dvořák: Romantic Music's Most Versatile Genius. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-57467-107-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, p. 112
  2. Score, p. VII
  3. Score, p. VI
  4. Score, p. VI
  5. "Humoresque". "The Digital Tradition". Retrieved 2010-05-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Betty Johnston (1989-08-20). "Please refrain". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-05-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Isabel Currier (1941). The young and the immortal. Alfred A. Knopf.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Frances Cheston Train (2008). In Those Days: A Carolina Plantation Remembered. The History Press. ISBN 978-1-59629-394-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Ed Cray (1999). The Erotic Muse: American Bawdy Songs. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-06789-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dvořák, Antonin. Humoresky. Critical Edition. (score) Prague: Bärenreiter Editio Supraphon, 1955. H 1274.

External links