Antonin Dvorak was one of the leading composers of the late Romantic period and one of many composers that utilized portions of music from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds in his compositions. The idea of Music Nationalism can be found in many of his works, especially in his Symphony no. 9 in E minor “from the New World”, which incorporates ideas from the American culture.
Antonin Dvorak was born on September 8, 1841 in the small village of Nelahozeves. Dvorak began his early music education training when he was eight years old at the local school in his village. When he was 14 he trained with the church choirmaster in the nearby town of ZIonce. At the age of 16 he studied at the German municipal school briefly and a year later, in 1857, he began his studies at the Prague Organ School, graduating in 1859. (Stefan 25-30).
Dvorak earned his first glance of success on March 9 of 1873 with the premiere of his patriotic cantata for male voices. (Doge) Boasting in the success Dvorak would then start to work on his opera, King and Charcoal Burner, with the Provisional Theatre. (Doge) This piece unfortunately did not get to premiere and was taken off the program because it exceeded the capabilities of the Czech orchestra. This event, however, is a pivotal point in the composition process of Dvorak as he began to critically assess his work and started to dive into new directions (Doge). This is where he starts to explore the ideas of music nationalism as his compositions deviated from the German influence and were influenced more by elements of Slavonic Folklore. During this Dvorak composed a couple more string quartets and a new version of his King and Charcoal Burner, which ended up having a very successful premiere in November of 1874 (Doge).
In 1883 Dvorak was invited to London to conduct his works and he would return there another 8 times. Amidst all this touring, in June 1891 Dvorak was invited to be a professor at the National Conservatory of Music In America by its president, Jeannette Thurber. Dvorak’s music was already popular in America, but Mrs. Thurber had the goal of wanting to create a national American style of art music. He accepted this invitation and departed for America in September of 1892 on the SS Saale and arrived in New York nine days later. October 1st marked his first day at the conservatory and on the 21st he gave the premiere of his piece, Te Deum, which he wrote for Mrs. Thurber for the 400-year anniversary of Columbus and America. Te Deum, however was not written in America; Dvorak’s first piece written in America would be his “New World” Symphony which premiered at Carnegie Hall on December 16th 1893 (Doge).
While at the National Conservatory he sought help from a black student, Henry Thacker Burleigh. From this experience he immersed himself in spirituals and plantation songs to help create his American style of music. His American style was based on pentatonism in the melodic line, flattened leading notes,...