Dvořák Symphony No 9 New World
Posted on 16th December 2023 at 13:30
Dvořák's Symphony No 9 "From the New World" is one of his most famous works and it's slow movement "Largo" was inspiration for a song and a classic advert. As a Cor Anglais player, MWC's Artistic Director Maria Thomas has played the famous solo on many occasions and it remains one of her favourite works.
The title "From the New World" highlight's Dvořák's contribution to the development of American Classical Music.
The second movement of the Symphony is recommended listening for Year 3 upwards in the New Model Music Curriculum.
For ideas for activities linked to the work click here.
Image: By Unknown author - This file comes from Gallica Digital Library and is available under the digital ID btv1b8417521d, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=101281
Antonín Dvořák was born on 8th September 1841 in Nelahozeves, near Prague, part of the Austrian Empire. He was was the eldest son of František Dvořák, an innkeeper and butcher who played the zither and his wife, Anna, née Zdeňková. Dvořák was taught the violin at school and it is believed his first composition “Polka pomněnka” was written in 1855.
Dvořák’s studies and early career
Dvořák moved to Zlonice to live with his uncle when he was 13 to learn German. He was taught organ, piano and violin byAntonin Leihmann, his German language teacher. Leihmann was organist at the local church and Dvořák was sometimes allowed to play for services. Together, Dvořák’s teacher and uncle persuaded his father to allow him to pursue music as a career, and František agreed on the basis that Dvořák would become an organist. Hegained a place at the Prague Organ School, graduating second in his class in 1859.
Alongside his organ studies, Dvořák had performed in orchestras and bands and in 1858 he joined Karel Komzák's orchestra, which later became the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra. In 1866, Bedřich Smetana became conductor of the orchestra.
In the early 1860s, Dvořák wrote his first string quartets and also developed some orchestral works but he was extremely self critical and burned some manuscripts. He wrote a symphony in C Minor in 1865 without an Opus number, which was preserved and is now known as his 1st Symphony.
Development as a composer
In 1871, Dvořák left the orchestra to focus on composing. His first publicly performed work was Vzpomínání ("Reminiscence") performed in October 1871. He wrote an opera entitled The King and the Charcoal Burner for the Provisional Theatre but it was returned with the message it was unperformable. However, Smetana gave the premiere of its Overture in 1872.
In the same year, his Piano Quintet in A major was performed to acclaim and this marked the beginning of his compositions being noticed in Prague. In 1874 he entered the Austrian State Prize with 15 compositions. One of the panel was Brahms who was impressed with the works. Dvořák won the prize that year - and in 1876 and 1877. Following the win in 1877, Dvořák was informed that Brahms had been part of the panel, to help the younger composer, Brahms recommended Dvořák’s Moravian Duets to his publisher, Simrock, widening awareness of Dvořák’s work, and continued to support Dvořák even proof-reading his music.
Simrock then commissioned a work inspired by Brahms’s Hungarian Dances and Dvořák’s response was his Slavonic Dances in 1878, first for piano for four hands and then orchestrated. An immediate success on performance, the dances were played in 1879 in concerts in France, England, and the United States. Simrock later commissioned further Slavonic Dances, which Dvořák supplied in his Op. 72, 1886. These remain one of Dvořák’s most popular works.
A growing reputation
Dvořák’s reputation also grew in England with a performance of his Stabat Mater in 1883 at the Royal Albert Hall and he was invited by the London Philharmonic Society to conduct concerts in London. As a response, Dvořák wrote his Symphony No 7 and conducted it’s premiere in St James’s Hall in 1885.
From 1892 - 1895, Dvořák was Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. This institution, set up by philanthropist Jeannette Thurber, was unusual at the time for allowing women and black students to study there. Dvořák wanted to discover “American Music”, and supported the idea that Native American and African-American music should be at the forefront of its development. He met Harry Burleigh, an African-American composer who introduced Dvořák to traditional African-American spirituals.
In 1893, Dvořák was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to write his 9th Symphony. In the winter of 1884-85, Dvořák wrote his Cello Concerto and then returned to Bohemia. This period led to a number of operas including his best known, Rusalka.
Dvořák was awarded many accolades during this time including member of the jury for the Viennese Artists' Stipendium, member of the Austrian House of Lords and director of the Prague Conservatory. His 60th birthday was celebrated as a national event - just three years before his death from influenza.
Symphony No 9 “From the New World”
Dvořák’s Symphony No 9 “From the New World” was commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic in New York on 16th December 1893.
The piece is divided into 4 movements:
1 Adagio - Allegro Molto
3 Scherzo: Molto Vivace
4 Finale - Allegro con fuoco
It draws on influences from Native American and African-American music alongside Bohemian traditions. Although it has been suggested that Dvořák quoted melodies directly, there is still debate about this. Leonard Bernstein suggested that the symphony was truly multinational in its foundations. Dvořák commented that this work was very much influenced by his time in America, in particular the wide open spaces.
However in structure, the Symphony is very much of the Western Classical tradition, with the third movement being a traditional Scherzo, and echoes of melodies from earlier movements featured in the Finale.
The work not only became Dvořák’s most famous work, but also, it seems, one of the most popular symphonies ever written.
2 flutes (one doubling piccolo)
2 oboes (one doubling English horn)
2 clarinets in B♭ & A
4 horns in E, C and F
2 trumpets in E, C and E♭
3 trombones: alto, tenor, bass
Tuba (second movement only)
Triangle (third movement only)
Cymbals (fourth movement only)
Second Movement: Largo
The second movement begins with quiet chords from the wind instruments: clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, trombones and tuba. The timpani then enters, followed by the strings marked “con sordini” (meaning ‘with mute’ to help the string players play more quietly).
In bar 7 the Cor Anglais, or English Horn begins one of the most famous solos ever written for the instrument. After 4 bars, the clarinets join in for 4 bars, then the first bassoon accompanies the Cor Anglais before the clarinets take up the melody. Loud chords are played and then the strings pick up the main melody before fading away ready for the Cor Anglais to play the main melody again before it is passed around the orchestra - to the clarinet, strings and horns.
The music picks up pace (Un poco piu mosso) with a melody played by the first flute and first oboe. The clarinets then play a slow melody, accompanied by the oboes, the flute then joins with pizzicato (plucked) double basses adding a bass line. The strings pick up the melody with a counter melody on the first flute and first oboe.
The music changes style with a solo oboe melody which is passed around the orchestra. The wind chords from the opening are heard again before the Cor Anglais repeats the opening melody. The melody is repeated by the strings, but instead of the whole section playing, Dvořák requests that just 2 of each section play - 2 first violins, 2 second violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and 2 double basses - then reducing to solo violin and solo cello before the whole string section joins them. The oboe and clarinet echo the melody before the strings play a variation before they are interrupted by the wind with the chords from the opening. A rising melody is spread across the orchestra, before the double basses play the final chords.
See the score here (Second movement beginning on page 207).
The Cor Anglais melody in the second movement of Dvořák’s Symphony No 9 is well known, partly because it has been used in a variety of contexts and this has changed the association people have with the music.
William Arms Fisher, one of Dvořák’s students, put words to the melody. He called the new song, "Goin' Home," and it was published in 1922.
“Goin' home, goin' home,
I'm a goin' home;
Quiet like, some still day,
I'm just goin' home.
It's not far, just close by,
Through an open door;
Work all done, care laid by,
goin' to fear no more.
Mother's there 'specting me,
Father's waiting too;
Lots of folk gathered there,
All the friends I knew.
Nothin' lost, all's gain,
No more fret nor pain,
No more stumblin' on the way,
No more longin' for the day,
Goin' to roam no more!
Mornin' star lights the way,
Restless dreams all done;
Shadows gone, break o'day,
Real life just begun.
There's no break, there's no end,
Just a livin' on;
Wide awake, with a smile
Goin' on and on.
Goin' home, goin' home,
I'm just goin' home.
It's not far, just close by,
Through an open door;
I'm just goin' home.
Goin' Home by Antonin Dvorak and William Arms Fisher, arranged by Jim Clements, performed by Voces 8.
It was famously sung at a 1958 concert by Paul Robeson at Carnegie Hall.
Art Tatum recorded a jazz version of the piece in 1949.
For several generations of British people, they know this melody as the “Hovis music”. The melody is played by a brass band and invokes Yorkshire, changing the interpretation from links with African-American Spirituals and the wide open spaces of America to a boy on a bike on a steep hill.
Building on the cultural impact of Dvořák’s Symphony No 9 2nd Movement, an activity would be to add words to a piece of instrumental music of any genre.
Things to consider when adding words are:
Will you keep the same speed or will your song be faster or slower than the original?
Will you arrange the piece for solo or unison voices (everyone singing the same notes) or write multiple parts?
Will you keep the accompaniment the same as the original or arrange the piece for different instruments?
Will you keep the piece in the same musical style or make changes? (E.g. turn Classical music into Jazz or Pop)
Will you keep one melody from the piece or use multiple melodies?
Another piece of Classical Music that inspired words is the slow melody from Jupiter from
Holst’s The Planets which has become I Vow to Thee My Country.
Dvorak's beloved 'New World Symphony' was an anthem to what American music could be - https://www.yourclassical.org/story/2023/07/07/npr-dvoraks-beloved-new-world-symphony-was-an-anthem-to-what-american-music-could-be
Dvorak's Symphonic Journey to the 'New World' - https://www.npr.org/2008/04/18/89758808/dvoraks-symphonic-journey-to-the-new-world
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