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Arts Desk

A New World Was Needed to Create This Symphony

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A native of Bohemia, Antonín Dvo?ák (1841-1904) was a minority in the Austrian Empire and in the classical music world. But he had risen to the top of it all when a millionaire patroness hired him to direct the brand-new National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. It would train all students without regard to race or ability to pay. There, in 1893, Dvo?ák’s eyes were opened to the possibilities of an "American" music.

It was there that he composed his last symphony, called by him, “From the New World.” He told everyone that his inspirations were Native American and African American music; in fact, Harry T. Burleigh, who would later become a famous arranger of spirituals, introduced some of these tunes to the European composer.

But all the music in the "New World Symphony" is original to Dvo?ák. The so-called “Goin’ Home” melody is named that because another student put words to Dvo?ák’s tune, 30 years later. Everyone thought it was a traditional spiritual.

Other scholars hear the sound of Dvo?ák’s own homeland in this work. But all agree that this ninth symphony of Antonín Dvo?ák, one of the most popular of all symphonies, could only have been launched from the new world.