Symphony No. 9 in E-Minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World")

Antonín Dvořák

Until the twentieth century, American composers felt pressured to discover a truly “American” sound in their music. While Gershwin and Bernstein had jazz and blues available to them as musical material, American composers in the late nineteenth century had to search for other solutions to the problem of crafting a truly “American” music. Deciding that composers needed European help in this project, Jeanette Thurber (president of the National Conservatory of Music in America) invited Czech composer Antonín Dvořák to teach composition in New York in 1892. Thurber wanted Dvořák to help American composers discover their national sound.

Dvořák remarked: “The Americans expect great things of me. I am to show them the way into the Promised Land, the realm of a new, independent art, in short a national style of music!” Dvořák’s recommendation to American composers was to look to African-American spirituals and Native American songs for inspiration.  To demonstrate how this might be done, Dvořák composed his Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) while on vacation in Iowa with his family in 1893.

Dvořák called the second movement Largo “a sketch or study for a later work, either a cantata or opera, which will be based upon Longfellow’s Hiawatha.” He also noted that the third movement was “suggested by the scene at the feast in Hiawatha where the Indians dance.” In addition to Longfellow’s epic poem, Dvořák found inspiration in the wide, open spaces he had seen during his travels across the United States to Iowa. It is not difficult to imagine any of these scenes after hearing the lush orchestration and sweeping melodies. Not only has this symphony become one of the most popular symphonies in the classical repertoire, but it is also a love note from Dvořák to America.

The ISO’s last performance of Symphony No. 9 in E Minor was June, 2014 conducted by Krzysztof Urbański.

© Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016.

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