What they weren’t so pleased about was the choice of theme: while the committee repeatedly recommended to Dvorak that he write a work on a biblical, thus internationally comprehensible, theme, the composer insisted on a story from Czech history.
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It could be seen as a monumental historical tableau in which the composer uses generous brushstrokes to illustrate the birth of a new era in Czech history.
His vision also unites Christian symbolism and patriotism, namely two concepts that had fundamental significance for Dvorak’s spiritual life.
Vrchlicky’s text has its weaknesses, particularly with regard to the portrayal of the individual characters: The apostle Ivan is not rendered as someone who spreads love and faith through his new teachings – he instead shows traits of fanaticism as he destroys the pagan idols; Ludmila’s sudden conversion to the new faith does not appear entirely natural, either; and Borivoj’s motivation behind his acceptance of Christ is contentious at the very least.
Despite its shortcomings, Vrchlicky’s libretto was almost ideally suited for the kind of work Dvorak had in mind.
The organisers requested a work with a biblical theme lasting about ninety minutes.