From the New World Symphony
Such beautiful music but it has a rather odd name... At least this
is how it seems at a first glance. If Pochettina is to come and explain
at length why it is called so, you will understand. But isn't it hard
to be that patient? What are you going to do in case Pochettina begins
explaining and forgets to stop? I know what I will do: I am going
to take some notes and afterwards I'm going to share them with you.
What do you think about that?
For the moment, let us quickly explain what the New World is all about. This is how North America was called at the beginning. It was a new world as it had been discovered in 1492. Antonin Dvorak arrived there in the autumn of 1892. What was happening? That year, he had received a letter from New York in which he had been invited to join the professorial body of the newly founded Conservatory, especially through the contribution of Ms. Jeanette Thumber. As a matter of fact, she was also the one who signed the letter. This lady, engaged herself to pay Dvorak an annual salary of 15.000 dollars, that is, the equivalent of 30.000 guldens, while his salary at the time was only 1200 guldens. Antonin Dvorak accepted, confessing to his friends: "I have accepted the invitation of Ms. Thumber. I am already old, and the money I have been offered will help my family".
Thus, at the end of September 1892 Dvorak arrives to New York where a great number of reporters had been waiting for him. Dvorak lived in New York for three years. You will probably ask why did Ms. Thumber invite him from all European composers. Her desire was to lay the foundation of an American School of composition and Dvorak represented that precise national spirit. The music from the United States was dominated at that time by the German School and a very few pieces of compositions could be classified as "American". Dvorak immediately realized what was missing: those few American compositions lacked the element he considered to be the most important: the folklore. As he later found out, though they had at hand the black folklore, it was not implemented in any composition.
The Symphony Op. 95 entitled From the New World was the first American composition. From the very beginning, this gave rise to disputes due to the contradictory statements of the Czech composer.
"It is the spirit of the negro and indian melodies that I tried to reproduce in my new symphony. I did not use any of such melodies directly. I only wrote the characteristic themes, inserting also the quality of the Indian music".
After such a declaration, one of the students of the New York Conservatory asserted that the master had spoken to him about certain passages from the symphony in which he had tried to present a young Indian girl crying while she was saying her last goodbye to Haiwatha. Annoyed by such comments, Dvorak denied any influence from the American folklore, saying that the Ninth Symphony was "an authentic Czech music".
If it was so or not, nobody knows anymore. The symphony remains his most renowned and appreciated piece of work.
Translated by: Cristina Neculai
MA student, MTTLC, Bucharest University