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Dvorák's 'New World Symphony' as
the most important symphonic work in American history


America in the latter part of the 1800s was a busy and thriving place. The United States was quickly becoming a global power and great influence to the rest of the world. However, the US could not compete with the vast and colorful history of European serious music. There was much appreciation for concert music, yet America was unable to contribute to the genre with something distinctively our own: '[It was] a new world of music. There were still very few American composers who could have written music in consonance with this newness. There was no real artistic center and scarcely any organized musical life in most of the cities and states.' [2]

In 1892, Jeanette Thurber, founder of The National Conservatory of Art in New York decided that she needed to bring an outside source to America; to nourish and bring about a unique form of concert music from our country. She desired not only national, but international recognition of the abilities and strengths that The Conservatory, and America in general, could offer. Thurber decided that she wanted to extend an invitation to the renowned Czech composer Antonín Dvorák to become the director of The National Conservatory. After some careful deliberation, Dvorák agreed and traveled across the sea to The United States. Soon, he would be responsible for the most important, and influential piece of symphonic music to ever come out of America: his 9th symphony entitled, 'From The New World'. Although Dvorák wrote many pieces of music with American themes and flavors before the New World, such as 'The American Flag' and 'Te Deum', The New World was the largest and most significant work of his American period, and perhaps his entire career. It was, 'the very first piece of serious music that, regardless of its traditional form and disputed sources, somehow managed to embody and convey the American spirit. Wildly popular, Dvorák's New World Symphony served as an ambassador to legitimize American music to the rest of a dubious world and paved the way to acceptance of our 20th Century cultural exports.' [6]

The New World Symphony fused elements of truly American folk melodies with the prestige and tradition of European concert music. Dvorák opened a gateway of new serious music within America, just what the country had been yearning for, and set a lasting influence for all concert music to come from America thereafter.

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Copyright © 15 December 2007 Trevor W Barrett, California, USA


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