Dvorak: Symphony No. 9, “From The New World” / Symphonic Variations (Alsop)
Dvorak’s 9th debuted on my birthday (Dec 16th, also Beethoven’s birthday!) in 1893, and it still stands today not only as an extraordinary symphonic achievement, but as one of the most majestic expressions of the influence of American folk music.
There is some debate over the actual extent to which Dvorak was influenced by African-American and Native American sounds and forms, and he himself apparently made some contradictory statements on the matter, but it seems clear that the influence is real, and one need only listen to the music to experience how this is so.
Dvorak’s most anthologized quote on the subject is this one:
“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.”
All ethnomusicological musings aside, the work is gorgeous independent of its influences, and this particular recording is arguably one of the finest. If there be no other way to determine the state of your soul, let us at least monitor your heartbeat as you listen to the 4th movement—if it doesn’t quicken, you may be dead.
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