The large-scale sonata form first movement starts with a lengthy introduction by the orchestra, which states both themes and allows the soloist to expand on each. The first theme is played throughout the movement and during the last part of the third movement, giving the concerto a cyclic structure. The solo cello begins with a quasi improvisando section stating the theme in B major followed by triple-stopped chords. The cello then plays the theme again in E major. This concerto requires a lot of technical ability, especially in the coda where the cello plays octaves and many double stops. The solo cello ends with trills then a high B octave. The movement ends tutti with the restatement of the first theme marked grandioso and fortissimo.
Following this opening essay is the lengthy Adagio, a lyrical movement which features a cadenza-like section which is accompanied mainly by flutes. The cello plays double stops accompanied by left-hand pizzicato on open strings. The movement ends with the cello playing harmonics very quietly.
The final movement is formally a rondo. It opens with the horn playing the main theme quietly. A gradual crescendo leads into a dramatic woodwinds and strings section. The solo cello enters by playing the modified main theme loudly which is marked risoluto. The orchestra plays the new modified theme again. Then the cello enters with a melody played on the A string played with thirty-second notes on the D string. This fast section leads into a section marked poco meno mosso, dolce, and piano. A crescendo and accelerando leads into a fast arpeggio played in sixteenth-note triplets. A fast scale leads into a loud tutti section presenting new material. The cello enters and a gradual decrescendo to another restatement of the theme marked piano. This is followed by a contrasting, loud restatement of the theme played by woodwinds accompanied by strings and brass. This is followed by a moderato section in C major and eventually meno mosso which slowly modulates from A major to C-sharp major to B-flat major and finally goes to the original tempo in B major. This is followed by another quiet and slow section which uses material from the first movement and second movement. The concerto ends allegro vivo presented by full orchestra.
Dvořák's friend and mentor Johannes Brahms had written a double concerto for violin and cello in 1887, eight years before Dvořák's cello concerto. He corrected the proofs of Dvořák's concerto for the composer and hence he knew the work intimately from the score. In 1896, Robert Hausmann had played it at his home with Brahms' piano accompaniment, and Brahms is reported as saying: "If I had known that it was possible to compose such a concerto for the cello, I would have tried it myself!" On 7 March 1897, Brahms heard Hugo Becker's performance of the piece in a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, and he said to his friend Gänsbacher before the concert: "Today you will hear a real piece, a male piece!"
Dvořák's original score, before he accepted a few of the numerous changes suggested by Hanuš Wihan, has been described as "much more musical", and this version has been performed from time to time. Throughout the piece, a motif which resembles American folk music reoccurs. It was suggested that Dvořák was heavily influenced by the music of native Americans and that he used his inspiration in the Cello Concerto.