Friday, January 12, 2018

A Window Above: New World Symphony

Piece: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World", op. 95, B. 178 (New World Symphony)
Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Premier: December 16, 1893, New York

I am slowly turning into my father.  Much as we might try to avoid it, becoming our parents as we age is largely inevitable.  My latest step in this steady march is my devotion to classical music radio.  I've been a classical musician for most of my life but as a consumer craving distraction from the day-to-day, I have generally preferred pop music radio platforms: Adult Alternative, Adult Hits, Classic Rock, etc.  Interestingly, it is my daughter who has pushed me in this direction.  With all of her musical involvements, she's actually become a bit of a snob (he says with beaming pride).  She will ask me to change the station when a particularly objectionable pop song comes on one of my other stations.  Classical music seems to keep both of us happy.

Fortunately, Vermont Public Radio (VPR) has an excellent classical music station.  It is now my default choice for the car and I have to admit that the switch feels like nothing short of a quality of life improvement.

Dvořák's New World Symphony has become one of my favorites in recent months.  Apart from hearing it on the radio, we also got to see it performed live at our most recent Vermont Symphony concert.  In composing the piece, the Czech master drew inspiration from both Native American and African American music as well as the wide open spaces of the American landscape.  I am especially fond of the second movement, Largo, the melodic theme based on "Goin' Home," a spiritual-like song written by one of Dvořák's pupils, William Arms Fisher.  The movement features one of the world's most famous English horn solos.

Now, if only Vermont had a jazz station...


  1. Traditionally, I've not had much interest in classical music beyond John Williams; however, I've found that going to the opera has given me a different perspective on it.
    I liked this piece.
    But I don't think I'm ready to just have it playing in the background. I like to sing along.

    1. The perspective on John Williams within the classical music world can be highly amusing. The academic composers are highly dismissive of his work and film music in general. But, who among them wouldn't kill for his audience?

      As a performer, I certainly have a lot more experience with vocal music but for background music, I find words distracting. It helps if it's not English, though.

  2. We have a great PBS channel plus Jazz music at night. I like to listen to our Classical channel but I do not know anything the music other than I like it. I heard our channel is the last Classical channel who plays the whole Symphony and not just part of it. Since I do not know what I just said I hope I said it right ?
    I really enjoy reading your blog about such interesting ideas.

    cheers, parsnip and mandibles

    1. It's true: many classical stations play one movement of a symphony or concerto rather than the whole piece. I find that frustrating, too, but it sure beats having no classical radio at all. One can always go to YouTube to hear the rest or - gasp! - buy it.

  3. Thank you, Squid. Beautiful selection, a personally treasured favorite. 12 years ago I was in hospital recovering from an operation (L.Atrial Myxoma --I was dying-- heart had to be disassembled and rebuilt) and Norma brought me an old transistor radio with headphones. I listened to Dvorak's healing symphony again and again on NPR. I lived.

    1. Geo., as your friend I am grateful for the surgery, Norma and Dvorak. Thank you for sharing your story.