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Ironically enough, it took a foreigner to write a symphony that was stylistically American. America was still young, and was recovering from the war that almost tore the country apart. There were still many tensions between all of the different ethnic groups within the nation. However, The US still had the ideal of accepting everyone who wanted an opportunity to be free. It was this ideal that encouraged Dvorák in writing his 9th symphony with inspirations from many of the ethnic groups within America, despite social or economic differences. Dvorák was so ahead of his time, yet prospered with America's willingness to accept new ideas, even in the 1890s. What Dvorák did was revolutionary for his time: he included minorities into a field that was formerly completely off limits. (And the civil rights movement was still more than sixty years away.) 'Of the 600 students at the National Conservatory, fully one quarter were African American, and his students, black and white, went on to teach such iconic American figures as George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Duke Ellington.' 1
Dvorák opened the door for a whole new method of teaching and composing American music, yet he remained modest in the fact that he only created out of homage to America. He once said, '[it is] nonsense about my having made use of original American melodies: I have composed in the spirit of American national melodies.' 2
He provided a sterling example of tolerance and acceptance through art. He took what all American ethnic groups had to offer artistically and joined them with his Bohemian symphonic genius to create the New World Symphony. The symphony was premièred in Carnegie Hall, 16 December 1893, and was a phenomenal success. It is in the repertoire of practically every major performing group worldwide now, and has been the subject for scholarly and artistic debate and appreciation ever since.
Copyright © 15 December 2007
Trevor W Barrett, California, USA