Antonín Leopold Dvořák (pronounced "di-VOR-zhak") was born in the Austrian Empire (now known as the Czech Republic). He lived from 1841 to 1904. Though he wrote a lot of music, much of it is not well remembered now. His last symphony, the ninth, is perhaps the most well-known of all his works.
In 1892, The National Conservatory of Music in New York wanted to hire Dvořák to be the Director. He reluctantly accepted, but was later to speak of his visit to America with much fondness. Besides New York, he had also enjoyed a visit to Spillville, Iowa, a small town with a heavy Czech population.
While in America, he was introduced to the rich folk music of Native Americans and African-Americans. It was this music that inspired his ninth symphony. You won't find any American folk melodies in this piece. According to Dvořák, he used his own style to represent the spirit of these unique people and their music.
Don't be surprised to discover that you've heard this before. It's very commonly used in movies, TV shows and cartoons. A recent example includes the computer-animated Barbie "Rapunzel" DVD. The first movement starts out quietly, kind of sadly, but soon becomes very exciting. This is the movement I'm going to have you listen to. The second movement is very peaceful and quiet, almost like a lullaby. It was later made into a song called "Goin' Home". The third movement is more raucous and exciting with kind of a tentative flavor (i.e., "what's going to happen next?"). The last movement is mostly powerfully dark, but triumphant. All the themes that were introduced in the first three movements are reintroduced.
I'm not sure when I first heard this piece. I rediscovered it in High School. I can remember hearing the first movement while I was driving in a car (listening to the Classical Music station out of Madison). I think I was on my way home because I made a point to remember the theme from that music. I didn't know what it was called. I mentioned it to Dad, and he identified it, as well as showed me that we had a recording of it. This piece was particularly close to me while I served my mission, and got me through some tough times.
This movement is 12 minutes and 22 seconds long. This is kind of on the long side of the pieces that I do for Music of the Month, but I'm pretty confident it'll keep any listener interested all the way through. How does the piece make you feel? What do you think about when you hear it? Did some moments surprise you?
For those interested, this recording is Kurt Masur conducting the New York Philharmonic.
One of the things that drew me into Classical music from an early age is powerful, dark, exciting or angry music. This is music that really grabs the listeners attention. It's the kind of music that is often used for soundtracks. The "New World" Symphony is a wonderful example of this, but it takes it one step further. Through all four movements, you experience a wide range of human emotion including sorrow, fear, anger, peace, tranquility, and finally jubilation. It uses many of the colors of the orchestra, including the full power of the string section and, my personal favorite, low brass.
I only required you to listen to the first movement, but don't let that stop you from hearing the other three. It is a longer piece, though, so I've included the time length of each movement. It's definitely worth your listen, but if you have listeners with a short attention span, I understand.
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World" by Antonín Dvořák - Second Movement (Largo) (12:55)
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World" by Antonín Dvořák - Third Movement (Molto Vivace) (7:58)
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World" by Antonín Dvořák - Fourth Movement (Allegro con fuoco) (11:21)
Also, for those who may want to follow along, I have found the score online:
Conductor's Score for Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World" by Antonín Dvořák