Today in 1936, the premiere of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 1, also known as The Bells of Zlonice.

What’s notable is that the premiere came about 71 years after the symphony was written, which is what happens when a symphony is thought to be lost.

Dvořák was the first composer from Bohemia to win acclaim in the classical music world.

He grew up in what is now the Czech Republic.

At first his family wanted him to train up as a butcher, like his father, but he had such a talent for music that he wound up studying as a performer and composer.

And for three years he developed his musical ability in the Bohemian town of Zlonice.

It’s said that he had trouble falling asleep at night because of the loud bells of the local church.

When Dvořák was 24, he decided to enter a composing competition in Germany by writing an entire symphony, which was a pretty ambitious project.

It included a recurring motif that sounded like bells, a reference to his time in Zlonice.

In early 1865, he sent the score off to the competition… and apparently he never got it back.

Supposedly when someone asked him what he did to try to retrieve his composition, he answered, “Nothing. I just sat down and wrote a new symphony.”

In all, he wrote nine of them, including the famous symphony “From The New World,” which was inspired by Black spirituals and Native American music.

As for that first symphony, Dvořák considered it lost for the rest of his life.

But it wasn’t lost, it was actually just kind of hiding.

It showed up next on the shelves of an antique bookstore in 1882, where it was purchased by a Dr. Rudolf Dvořák (no relation to the composer).

He apparently just kept it on a bookshelf until the end of his life, and then his son pointed out to the world that hey, I think my dad had the only score of a Dvořák symphony, would anyone be interested?

People were interested, though one, they had to go back and re-number all of the previous symphonies to account for the first one, and two, the symphony was brought to light in 1923 and didn’t get its premiere for another 13 years.

But at that point people must’ve thought, we’ve waited this long, why rush now?

Starting tomorrow at the Conner Prairie outdoor history museum in Indiana, it’s the Headless Horseman Festival.

They’re going to have a lot of Halloween and fall-style games and rides, but there’s also a haunted hayride where the Horseman may make a diabolical appearance.

Hopefully nobody gets “spirited away by supernatural means.”

José Serebrier writes about the strange history of Dvořák’s First Symphony, The Bells of Zlonice (Classical Source)

Antonín Dvořák and the lost symphony (Radio Prague International)

Headless Horseman Festival at Conner Prairie 

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Image via Wikicommons