"You would have liked Dvorák. Everyone did." I do not know where I read that or who told it to me, but apparently Dvorák (1841 - 1904) was not just a great composer, but a good man, as well. Yesterday would have been his birthday. Dvorák is another Czech composer whose music I want to revisit this year.
The facts of Dvorák's life are well know. I will relate here a story about him that may not be. Toward the end of his life, in 1892, Dvorák came to America, and he spent spent three years here, working as director of the National Conservatory. That visit changed things that needed changing—he championed two groups of downtrodden people, Native Americans and African Americans. Until Dvorák, the cultures of these peoples were looked down on, and their music was despised, or, at best, dismissed.
Dvorák visited Czech colonies in the midwest, and, while he was there, he invited local Native American tribes to come and play their music for him. They did, and he loved it and told them so. Word spread of this great European composer who took notice of them and who understood their music, and other tribes from farther away brought their music to him.
Dvorák did the same for African Americans. He listened to their Spirituals, and he told them how important he thought they were: and how they must preserve them and perform them. He said: "In the melodies of [African-Americans] I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.”
In 1893, the New York Philharmonic commissioned a symphony from Dvorák. It was to be Dvorak's ninth, and final, symphony (many composers since Beethoven, who wrote nine symphonies, have been loathe to write more than that). Dvorák titled his symphony "From the New World," because for it, he composed original themes based on the Native American and African American music he had heard (he did not use actual Native American or African American melodies). The lovely Adagio movement of the symphony features a Spiritual melody that became, on its own, an actual spiritual—"Goin' Home." Most who know this spiritual do not know that Dvorák wrote it. I have heard Kathleen Battle sing it, and other great opera divas. Today, I listened to The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing it, from their 2003 album Spirit of America. Here is a link:
Many credit Dvorák with inspiring American composes to create a uniquely American music. Before his time here, and before his compositions that employed American themes, American music had been derivative of the European. After Dvorák, that began to change.
I plan to feature the entire Symphony No. 9 of Dvorák in an upcoming couple of weeks featuring notable symphonies.
I created "Brave New World," the image above, in 2006 It is based on Mandelbrot fractals. The title is from Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act 5, scene 1, 181–184:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!