Conducted by Herbert von Karajan, the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) performs Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World,” Op. 95, B. 178.
Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 “From The New World”
The symphony was composed by Antonín Dvořák in 1893 while the composer was the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America from 1892 to 1895. and is popularly known as “The New World Symphony”. The piece is one of the most popular of all symphonies.
- (0:37) Adagio, 4/8 – Allegro molto, 2/4, E minor. The movement is written in sonata form and begins with an introductory leitmotif in Adagio. This melodic outline also appears in the third movement of Dvořák’s String Quintet No. 3 in E-flat major and his Humoresque No. 1. The exposition is based on three thematic subjects. The first in E minor is notable for its announcing and responsive phrases. The second is in G minor and undergoes a transformation such that it resembles a Czech polka. The exposition’s closing theme in G major is known for being similar to the African-American spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. The development primarily focuses on the main and closing themes, and the recapitulation consists of a repetition of the main theme as well as a transposition of the second and closing themes up a semitone. The movement is concluded with a coda, with the main theme stated by the brass above an orchestral tutti.
- (10:42) Largo, common time, D-flat major, then later C-sharp minor. The second movement is introduced by a harmonic progression of chords in the wind instruments. Beckerman interprets these chords as a musical rendition of the narrative formula “Once upon a time”. Then a solo cor anglais (English horn) plays the famous main theme in D-flat major accompanied by muted strings. Dvořák was said to have changed the theme from clarinet to cor anglais as it reminded him of the voice of Harry Burleigh. The movement’s middle section contains a passage in C♯ minor evoking a nostalgic and desolate mood which eventually leads into a funeral march above pizzicato steps in the basses. It is followed by a quasi-scherzo that incorporates this movement’s theme as well as the first movement’s main and closing themes. The Largo is concluded with the soft return of the main theme and introductory chords.
- (23:30) Scherzo: Molto vivace – Poco sostenuto, 3/4, E minor. The movement is a scherzo written in ternary form, with influences from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. The stirring rhythm of the first part is interrupted by a trio middle section. The first part is then repeated, followed by an echo in the coda of the first movement’s main theme.
- (32:07) Allegro con fuoco, common time, E minor, ends in E major. The final movement is also written in sonata form. After a brief introduction, the horns and trumpets declare the movement’s main theme against sharp chords played by the rest of the orchestra. The second theme is then presented by the clarinet above tremolos in the strings. The development not only works with these two themes but also recalls the main themes of the first and second movements and a fragment of the Scherzo (see notes 1). Following the recapitulation which begins in the unexpected key of G minor but later corrects itself back to the original key, the movement reaches its climax in the coda, in which materials from the first three movements are reviewed for a final time while the Picardy third is expanded after the orchestra triumphantly plays a “modally altered” plagal cadence.
Where the “From the New World” name comes from
Dvořák was interested in Native American music and the African-American spirituals he heard in America. As director of the National Conservatory, he encountered an African-American student, Harry T. Burleigh, later a composer himself, who sang traditional spirituals to him and said that the Czech composer had absorbed their ‘spirit’ before writing his own melodies. Dvořák stated:
“I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.”
The symphony was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and premiered on December 16, 1893, at Carnegie Hall conducted by Anton Seidl. A day earlier, in an article published in the New York Herald on December 15, 1893, Dvořák further explained how Native American music had been an influence on this symphony:
“I have not actually used any of the [Native American] melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral color.”
In the same article, Dvořák stated that he regarded the symphony’s second movement as a “sketch or study for a later work, either a cantata or opera … which will be based upon Longfellow’s [The Song of] Hiawatha (also known as Ayenwatha, Aiionwatha, or Haiëñ’wa’tha; Onondaga; was a pre-historical Native American leader and co-founder of the Iroquois confederacy)” (Dvořák never actually wrote such a piece). He also wrote that the third movement scherzo was “suggested by the scene at the feast in Hiawatha where the Indians dance”.
In 1893, a newspaper interview quoted Dvořák as saying “I found that the music of the negroes and of the Indians was practically identical”, and that “the music of the two races bore a remarkable similarity to the music of Scotland”. Most historians agree that Dvořák is referring to the pentatonic scale, which is typical of each of these musical traditions.
Hence the name “From The New World”.
- Scherzo is a short composition – sometimes a movement from a larger work such as a symphony or a sonata.
- Symphony No. 9 (Dvořák) on Wikipedia
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