Czech composer Antonin Dvořák was born in a village near Prague. Despite his father’s wishes for him to continue in the family business and become a butcher, Dvořák pursued his career in music and by the age of 18 was working as a fulltime musician. During his childhood he developed a deep passion for his heritage and fell in love with the native folk tunes and bohemian melodies associated with his village. It was these early influences that shaped Dvořák’s style. Much of his repertoire is based on Bohemian folk songs and melodies.
Dvořák moved to New York in 1892, after he was named the Director of the National Conservatory of Music. He lived not far from there, at 327 E. 17th Street, just down the street from where the Conservatory used to be (there is a high school there now). It was there that the “New World” Symphony and the Cello Concerto in B Minor were written. The “New World” was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and premiered in December of 1893 at Carnegie Hall. Because of his love for folk music, Dvořák was very interested in Native American and spiritual melodies and themes, and said upon his arrival here, “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.”
Dvořák said of the “New World” the day before its premiere, “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.”
Throughout this piece, the listener can pick out the influence of these themes on the symphony. The main theme in the second movement is perhaps the most famous melody that Dvořák wrote and has been used widely in TV and Film scores. It was played during the coverage of the landing on the moon and subsequent celebrations of that event.
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95, "From The New World"
By Antonin Dvorak
Composed in 1893