Symphony No. 9 (Dvořák)

Symphony No. 9 (Dvořák)
Title page of the autograph score of Dvořák's ninth symphony

The Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World", Op. 95, B. 178 (Czech: Symfonie č. 9 e moll „Z nového světa“), popularly known as the New World Symphony, was composed by Antonín Dvořák in 1893 during his visit to the United States from 1892 to 1895. It is by far his most popular symphony, and one of the most popular in the modern repertoire. In older literature and recordings this symphony is often indicated as Symphony No. 5.



This symphony is scored for an orchestra of the following:


The piece has four movements:

  1. Adagio, 4/8Allegro molto, 2/4, E minor
  2. Largo, common time, D-flat major, then later C-sharp minor
  3. Scherzo: Molto vivace – Poco sostenuto, 3/4, E minor
  4. Allegro con fuoco, common time, E minor, ends in E major


Dvořák was interested in the Native American music and African-American spirituals he heard in America. Upon his arrival in America, he stated:

"I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them."[3]

The symphony was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, and premiered on December 16, 1893, at Carnegie Hall conducted by Anton Seidl. A day earlier, in an article published in the New York Herald on December 15, 1893, Dvořák further explained how Native American music had been an influence on this symphony:

"I have not actually used any of the [Native American] melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral colour."

In the same article, Dvořák stated that he regarded the symphony's second movement as a "sketch or study for a later work, either a cantata or opera ... which will be based upon Longfellow's [The Song of] Hiawatha" (Dvořák never actually wrote such a piece). He also wrote that the third movement scherzo was "suggested by the scene at the feast in Hiawatha where the Indians dance".

Curiously enough, passages which modern ears perceive as the musical idiom of African-American spirituals may have been intended by Dvořák to evoke a Native American atmosphere. In 1893, a newspaper interview quoted Dvořák as saying "I found that the music of the negroes and of the Indians was practically identical", and that "the music of the two races bore a remarkable similarity to the music of Scotland".[4][5] Most historians agree that Dvořák is referring to the pentatonic scale, which is typical of each of these musical traditions.[6]

In a 2008 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, prominent musicologist Joseph Horowitz asserts that African-american spirituals were a major influence on the ninth symphony, quoting Dvořák from an 1893 interview in the New York Herald as saying, "In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music."[7]

Despite all this, it is generally considered that, like other Dvořák pieces, the work has more in common with folk music of his native Bohemia than with that of the United States. Leonard Bernstein averred that the work was truly multinational in its foundations.[8]

The anthem of the Bureau of International Expositions was extracted from the starting part of the fourth movement of the symphony.

Popular reception and premiere

At the ninth symphony's premiere at Carnegie Hall (December 16, 1893,[9]) the reception was one of perpetual cheering. The end of every movement was met with thunderous clapping and Dvořák felt obliged to stand up and bow. In a letter to his publisher Simrock he stated how there was "no getting out of it, and I had to show myself willy-nilly".[citation needed]

The song "Goin' Home"

It has been claimed that the theme from the Largo was adapted into a spiritual-like song "Goin' Home", by composer Harry Burleigh, whom Dvořák met during his American sojourn, and lyricist William Arms Fisher,[10] but the song was actually written by Fisher and based on Dvořák's Largo theme. Richard Taruskin, however, states that it is unknown whether or not there already existed a spiritual that was used by Dvořák. What is known for sure, however, is that it has been popularised as a result.[11]

Original manuscript score

The score as published has some differences from Dvořák's manuscript. The published score is the version almost always heard today. However, the original version as written by Dvořák has been championed by conductor Denis Vaughan, who performed it for the first time on 17 May 2005 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, London.[12]

Notes and references

  1. ^ The scoring of piccolo in this symphony is extremely unusual; although the English horn is brought in for the famous solo in the second movement, the piccolo plays only a short phrase in the first, and nothing else.
  2. ^ Tuba is only scored in the second movement. According to the full score book published by Dover, phrases "Trombone basso e Tuba" is indicated in the some measures in the second movement; the bass trombone is used with the two tenor trombones in movements 1, 2 and 4.
  3. ^ Classical Classics – Dvorak's "New World" Symphony, Classical Notes, Peter Gutmann
  4. ^ Kerkering, John D.; Albert Gelpi, Ross Posnock (2003). The Poetics of National and Racial Identity in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521831148. 
  5. ^ Beckerman, Michael Brim (2003). New Worlds of Dvorak: Searching in America for the Composer's Inner Life. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393047067. 
  6. ^ Clapham, John (1958). The Musical Quarterly, The Evolution of Dvorak's Symphony "From the New World". Oxford University Press. pp. 167–183. 
  7. ^ "New World Symphony and Discord" by Joseph Horowitz, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 11, 2008
  8. ^ Leonard Bernstein: the 1953 American Decca recordings. DGG 477 0002. Comments on the 2nd compact disc.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Smith, Jane Stuart; Betty Carlson (1995). The Gift of Music: Great Composers and Their Influence. Crossway Books. ISBN 089107869X. , p. 157: "The largo of the second movement has a hauntingly beautiful melody played by the English horn. There is a sense of longing about it, and a spiritual has been adapted from it, 'Going Home'"
  11. ^ Taruskin, Richard, The Oxford History of Western Music: Music in the Nineteenth Century, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 765
  12. ^ Caare: Guardian of Art & Sport


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