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Sunday, September 4, 2022

Musical Interlude

(For politics, please scroll down)

This Labor Day Weekend, enjoy String Quartet No. 12 'American' by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), also known for his Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World"

[about the above piece, which is, in effect an homage to American music, particularly Negro spirituals and folk songs]


  1. I must not have a very good ear... because I failed to detect the African-American influences advertised. Sorry.

    1. I can hear it in some of the melodic themes, which taken out if their harmonic context don't sound very negro anymore. Maybe some of the b7s in the bass are blues inspired, but Dvorak might have been into that already.

    2. FJ and Jez,
      From this reliable source:

      During Dvořák's tenure as Director of the National Conservatory in New York he spent one summer in 1893 in the small town of Spillville, Iowa. The town had a Czech community and spending the summer there gave him a break from the hustle and bustle of New York, eased his homesickness and gave him time to compose. He wrote three works during that Spillville vacation; String Quintet No. 3, Symphony No. 9, and String Quartet No. 12.

      The music of America, especially Negro spirituals and songs, inspired Dvořák to write works that used themes reminiscent of the folk music he heard. Dvořák talked about how American music inspired him in a letter written in 1893:

      "As for my new Symphony, the F major String Quartet and the Quintet (composed here in Spillville) – I should never have written these works 'just so' if I hadn't seen America. As to my opinion, I think that the influence of this country (it means the folk songs that are Negro, Indian, Irish, etc.) is to be seen, and that this [the symphony] and all other works written in America differ very much from my earlier works, as much in colour as in character..."

      Dvořák was also quoted in the newspaper 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."

      Dvořák didn't use any song directly in these works, but he used the pentatonic scale (represented by the five black keys on the piano) in the original themes he used. The pentatonic scale is used in many kinds of folk music around the world and Dvořák was familiar with it from his native Czech folk music. His composer's ear picked up on the nuances that made American music unique and he imitated them in his themes.

      Hope the above helps.

    3. Also see this:

      ...He composed the ["New World"] Symphony No. 9 in 1893, and while American music inspired him, he did not use any American melodies in the work. He wrote in the American style of pentatonic scale use and did it so well that for a long time many put the cart before the horse, especially in regards to the melody from the 2nd movement. A song named Goin' Home takes its melody from the symphony, not the other way around. The words were not set to the melody until many years after the symphony had been written....

      More about the song "Goin' Home" HERE.

      In sum, any Negro music wasn't used directly but rather Westernized along the lines of classical music.

    4. I see... the African influence became a sort of "vanishing mediator" with an expanded use of the pentatonic scale throughout the "whole" of his newly composed western music.

      I suppose I was expecting a "jazzier" or "bluessier" sound.

    5. ...not so much a "spiritual" music to become more "secular".

    6. ...and the re-introduction of the "spiritual" with the lyrics in "Going Home" being added retrospectively, years later.


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