Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dvorak And Burleigh In The New World

The composition is magnificent. But check out the pictures too. This is young America, bursting at the seams with an irrepressible energy. As in the music, the history of New World is that of an arc bending upwards.

Much of his time in America was occupied by teaching and organizing performances. But above all else Dvorak was a composer and in his first winter in New York he began to write the symphony that would become his most cherished. (It was completed that summer on vacation in Spillville, Iowa, a colony of Czech immigrants who helped assuage Dvorak's intense homesickness.) Formally, the work fell solidly within European tradition, with a sonata-form opening, a meditative largo broken by restless outbursts, a lusty scherzo with bucolic trios and a vigorous, triumphant finish. In keeping with the emerging trend of cyclical form, its themes all germinated from a common seminal motif and returned in the finale. But beginning with its hugely successful premiere that December, its subtitle "From the New World" generated considerable confusion over its inspiration and thematic content.

One of Dvorak’s best students was Harry T. Burleigh, an African-American. According to two Dvorak experts, Maestro Maurice Peress (author of Dvorak to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America’s Music and Its African-American Roots) and Prof. Michael Beckerman (Chair of Music at NYU and author ofNew Worlds of Dvorak: Searching in America for the Composer’s Inner Life), Burleigh introduced Dvorak to spirituals and other music of African-Americans. These scholars think that the English horn solo in the Largo from the second movement of the Ninth Symphony evokes the voice of Burleigh. This music is on display at the special exhibition. Burleigh was hired by the Philharmonic as one of the copyists of the score.

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