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Dvorak Symphony No. 9
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904): Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 (From the New World)
I. Adagio; Allegro molto
III. Scherzo: Molto vivace
IV. Allegro con fuoco
Accompanied by his wife, six children and a cousin, Dvořák left Prague for the United States in September, 1892. The composer had misgivings about the trip, but the promise of an annual salary of $15,000 convinced him to accept the directorship of New York’s National Conservatory of Music.
During his two-year stay in this country, he taught, fed the pigeons in Central Park, indulged his passion for trains at the New York Central railroad yard, spent his summers at a Czech community in Spillville, Iowa, and composed his last symphony.
“I have just finished a new symphony in E minor,” he wrote in a letter. “It pleases me very much and will differ very substantially from my earlier compositions. Well, the influence of America can be felt by anyone who has a ‘nose’.”
Dvořák always claimed that the title referred to his “impressions and greetings from the New World,” but critics immediately accused him of wholesale theft of American folk music. While part of the first movement does resemble the spiritual Swing Low Sweet Chariot, the melody of the second movement was later borrowed by William Arms Fischer, one of Dvorák’s pupils, for his pseudo-spiritual Goin’ Home. Certain resemblances in the last movement to Three Blind Mice can also be regarded as allusions to the Czech folk song Weeding Flaxfields Blue.
“Omit that nonsense about my having made use of ‘Indian’ or ‘American’ themes--that is a lie,” wrote the composer. “I tried to write only the spirit of national American melodies.”
The Symphony received its first performance in Carnegie Hall in New York on December 15, 1893. According to Dvořák, it “created a furor.” He wrote to his publisher: “The papers say that no composer ever celebrated such a triumph…the audience applauded so that, like visiting royalty, I had to take my bows repeatedly from the box in which I sat.”
H.L. Mencken was then music critic for the Baltimore Evening Sun. His review described the work as “a first rate work of art, honestly constructed and superbly written. It is clear, it is ingenious, it is beautiful. You will search a long while, indeed, among symphonies of these later years before you find better writing and better music.”
The score calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, trumpet, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbals and strings.
©2010 Charley Samson