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Antonín Dvorák knew the plight of the common people very well. He could identify with the struggles of the working man because that was the type of environment that he grew up in himself, in Bohemia. He was part of a movement within Europe of that time known as nationalism, whereas he wrote in a very patriotic style using folk melodies of his homeland. Much of these themes can be easily discerned in his early works, and even within The New World Symphony itself. 
Dvorák had an appreciation for the folk melodies of a country, because he understood the power of its connectivity with its people. Sometimes the simplest melodies can be the ones that most deeply affect the human spirit. As of 1892, America was looking in the opposite direction; 30 years removed from The Civil War, American music makers were not looking to include native folk melodies and most certainly did not want to include musical elements of African Americans or Native Americans. There was still an overwhelming sense that black Americans and other minority groups were somehow primitive and inferior; not to be taken seriously, and not to be included in serious music. Dvorák acted as a musical revolutionary when he proposed that America should not only appreciate these types of music, but accept them as justly American folk melodies that should be incorporated into the musical repertoire of the American composer. Dvorák was so audacious, that he even did an interview for The New York Herald on May 21st 1893 in which he, 'challenged American composers to make use of the wealth of material in this treasury of genuine folk-music.' 
Dvorák's term 'genuine folk-music' itself was bold for this time. He made no distinction between Anglo, African, or Native American folk songs. This ideal is American. There were so many varied styles and melodies available within America, yet the composers of the time turned away from them. It was Dvorák who incorporated these themes within his epic New World Symphony, and put composers the world over on notice of the massive array of quality music available through the folk traditions of America.
Copyright © 15 December 2007
Trevor W Barrett, California, USA