Music & Imagery: “New World” Symphony
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Presentation of the concert
Symphony No. 9 (From the New World)
In music and imagery
For a second season, the OSM is inviting you to experience the Beyond the Score™ series of concerts. Conceived and developed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, these concerts offer an original and dynamic format that let concertgoers delve into the world of an important symphonic work. In the first part of the concert, the work is placed in its historical context by means of a dramatic narration and visual projections. In the second part, the OSM performs the symphony in its entirety.
In this concert, reacquaint yourself with Dvorák’s “New World” Symphony, one of the best known works of the symphonic repertoire. Discover its connection to the writings of the American poet Longfellow and learn why so many Czechs, African-Americans and Native Americans hear echoes of their folklore in this music.
Born in Mühlhausen, Bohemia (today Nelahozeves, Czech Republic), September 8, 1841; Died in Prague, May 1, 1904
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 (From the New World)
Adagio – Allegro
Scherzo: Molto vivace
Allegro con fuoco
Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, the “New World Symphony” to most listeners, received its world premiere in New York’s Carnegie Hall on December 16, 1893. Although the “New World” Symphony was written in the New World, it is not specifically about the New World. True, there are themes that could be construed as being “authentic” songs of the American Indians or African-Americans, but in fact, as in Dvořák’s Slavonic works, he did not actually quote directly from folksong but rather composed his own based on study of the source material.
One “New World” aspect of this symphony is the role played by Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha, which Dvořák had read in Czech translation some thirty years earlier. He re-read the poem in America and claimed that the scene of Minnehaha’s funeral in the forest inspired the Largo movement of his symphony, while the Indians’ Dance was responsible for the Scherzo. Dvořák actually visited Hiawatha’s land (Iowa and southern Minnesota), but the symphony was essentially complete by this time, so whatever influence Hiawatha had on him was purely literary, not geographical.
The “New World” is the only one of Dvořák’s nine symphonies to open with a slow introduction. Within the space of just 23 measures, the composer incorporates moods of melancholic dreaming and tense foreboding, startling eruptions and a surging melodic line. The main Allegro section is launched by horns in an arpeggiated fanfare motif in E minor, a motif that will reappear in all remaining movements as well. Several additional themes follow.
The Largo contains one of the most famous themes in all classical music. Many listeners know it as the song “Goin’ home,” but Dvořák did not borrow the theme from a spiritual; it is his own, and the words were superimposed after the symphony was written by one of his students, William Arms Fisher.
The Scherzo is one of the most energetic and exhilarating movements Dvořák ever wrote, and borders on the virtuosic as well for the dazzling orchestral display it entails.
The finale too contains its share of melodic fecundity and inventiveness. The final chord is a surprise – not a predictably stentorian chord played fortissimo by the full orchestra, but a lovely, warm sonority of winds alone, a sound that lingers gently on the ears of New World audiences.