DOC TALK”/CLASS LESSON – Monday, June 8, 2020
VIDEO LINK: https://youtu.be/UPjjDAnb_yc
1) As this is our final week of “remote learning,” I will be sending you a video through this Wednesday, June 10th. I would like students to contact me (via text or email) if you watched ALL of my Doc Talks/Lessons throughout the past 2 months!
2) Registration for Marching Band is OPEN on our website!!!
Please sign up ASAP, and spread the word, especially to rising 9th graders! The due date is Friday, June 19th. Our “new” section leaders/captains will also be contacting you soon!
Today’s Lesson: Antonin Dvorak and his “New World Symphony,” Movements I and II
I have decided to end our semester with one of the most well-known and beloved works in our repertoire, Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” With all the chaos happening in our country at this time, as a result of the pandemic as well as the police shootings, I felt that it would appropriate to revisit a work that has come to sonically “define” our country in its best light. That’s the great thing about music: It is an eternal “good” that cannot be tarnished by politics, crime, etc. It continually reminds us that there is something unbelievably GREAT in our world that will not let us down!
Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) was born near Prague in the Czech Republic (also known as Bohemia). He spent the majority of his life in this area and the native folk songs and dances were significant influences on his personal style. In his younger years, he played the organ and viola in addition to composing. He spent many years just barely “scraping by” playing organ/viola and composing until he was recognized by Johannes Brahms. Brahms noted Dvorak’s genius at once and not only “spread the word,” but was able to secure Dvorak a generous yearly stipend so that he could devote himself to composition in relative comfort! (Remember when Robert Schumann helped launch Brahms’ career? Brahms was just paying this forwardJ)
In 1892, Dvorak was invited to become the director of the “National Conservatory of Music of America” in New York City. Dvorak and his family seized this opportunity to see America and made the pilgrimage to the “New World.” Dvorak ended up spending 3 years in the United States, including a summer spent in Spillville, Iowa. He wanted to spend the summer in the “Midwest” to better get a feel for the country. Dvorak was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to compose a symphony inspired by the music of America and the “New World Symphony” (1893) was the result.
The Symphony was premiered on Dec. 16, 1893 in Carnegie Hall, N.Y. There was thunderous applause after EACH movement of the work! According to Dvorak, it was the most acclamation that he ever received! The Symphony holds the distinction of maintaining popularity since its premiere. It is Dvorak’s most frequently performed work and is performed by most orchestras at least once during any 5-year period.
The “New World Symphony” (aka known as Symphony No. 9 in E minor) is in 4 movements (as expected): The first movement is in sonata form; the second movement is a ballad; the third movement is in ¾ (a scherzo); and the fourth movement is in sonata form like the first. Although much of the symphony is in the key of E minor, the work ends in E Major—somewhat common, like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor (which ends in C Major).
But what makes this Symphony so special?
1) The tunes! Like Mozart, Dvorak was a “tunesmith.” He had a knack of writing songs that people loved and remembered! They are so “sing-able,” so wonderfully charming and melodic. There are a lot, and I mean a lot of tunes in this symphony!
2) Dvorak’s compositional technique involves much repetition (including sequencing motifs, playing themes in different keys) so that the melodies/tunes STICK in the listener’s mind.
3) In this Symphony, many themes/motifs from earlier movements are used in later movements; in this way, Dvorak keeps these tunes in the listener’s ear throughout the entire symphony!
4) It’s overall “program”: Based on its title, the symphony is meant to describe impressions of our country. Many of the themes are inspired by Native-American and African-American song; some “look-back” to traditional Czech and European music; and finally some have a strong, robust character often associated with the spirit of our country.
5) Each of its 4 movements is GREAT! There is no feeling of inferiority or “let-down” in any of the movements. They are all wonderfully crafted, containing memorable tunes, ingenious writing, and significant emotional moments.
Movement 1: Adagio; Allegro molto
Music cue #1: Beginning-0:53 in the attached link
The first movement begins with a slow Introduction comprising a quiet, melancholy statement in the celli which is repeated in the flute. This theme is said to hint at the sadness that is as much a part of our country’s heritage as is our achievements. Dvorak was profoundly inspired by the stories and folk music of Native-Americans (who were virtually driven to extinction) and African-Americans (who were enslaved). Curiously, Dvorak never returns or develops this idea.
The remainder of the introduction creates an atmosphere of restlessness and anticipation as strong exclamations between the strings and winds/percussion alternate with light syncopated passages in the upper woodwinds.
Music Cue #2: 1:52-2:55 in the attached link
The Exposition proper (Allegro molto) begins with an energetic, arpeggiated theme in the horn (outlining the tonic key of e minor) answered by a dotted rhythmic figure in the woodwinds. This theme—Theme A—will be sounded throughout the entire symphony and is said to musically portray the industrious spirit of our nation.
Music Cue #3: 2:55-3:56 in the attached link
The second theme—B Theme—sounds more like a Czech polka than an American tune. Note how the third measure is a melodic inversion of the first measure. As is typical in this work, “new-sounding” themes are mixed-in with “old-sounding” European themes. Some historians have posited that Dvorak was illustrating the fact that America is a melting pot of peoples—Native Americans, African Americans, Europeans and the like. [Note: The influence of Asian Americans was not as prevalent in America in the late 1800’s as it is today.]
Music Cue #4: 3:56-4:50 in the attached link
The exposition closes with a third theme—C Theme, or Closing Theme—now in G Major, the relative major of E minor. According to Dvorak, this theme was inspired by the African-American spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Note the orchestration of the flute in its low register—quite rare in orchestral writing!
As is expected in a first movement in sonata form, the exposition is repeated followed by a development and a recapitulation. (Note: Exposition is NOT repeated in recording included in link.)
Movement II: Largo
This is the most famous “largo” in the orchestral repertoire. Interestingly, Dvorak originally marked the tempo as “andante;” however, during rehearsals for the premiere performance, Dvorak realized that andante was much too fast for the nature of the music and settled on “largo.”
Music Cue #5: 9:20-9:42 in the attached link
The brass chorale that opens the work will be heard several times during this movement as a musical “pillar” appearing before and after the main themes.
It is a really cool chord progression that concludes in the main key of the movement, Db major.
E Major–Bb Major with D in bass–E Major–Db Major–A Major–Gb minor6–Db Major
Note that the root interval between the first two chords is the tritone (E-Bb).
Also note that beginning with the third chord (E Major), the last 5 chords always share one note in common with the succeeding chord (E-Db-A-Gbm6-Db). Try this on a piano and you’ll see what I mean.
Music Cue #6: 10:01-11:35 in the attached link
Perhaps the most famous melody in the entire symphony is sounded by the English horn (an alto oboe). The creation of this melody is said to have been influenced by the sound of African-American spirituals. It was soon set to lyrics with the title “Goin’ Home” years after the premiere of this symphony.
Music Cue #7: 14:02-15:20 in the attached link
The “B Theme” in this movement is said to have been inspired by Native American stories, such as the “Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Dvorak was very fond of this poetically scripted story of the noble Native-American “Hiawatha” and stated that many moments of the symphony were inspired by this tale. This theme occurs in C# minor (the parallel minor to Db major…remember, Db = C#). The second half of this “B Theme” is a melody that is akin to a funeral march; note the pizzicato walking bass accompaniment.
Music Cue #8: 17:12-17:35 in the attached link
After stating the “B Theme” a second time, Dvorak introduces yet another theme in this movement (a C Theme) which also can be considered a bridge/transition. This is the perkiest part of the movement and is reminiscent of a Bohemian dance. It is stated 5 times—almost like a fugue!
Music Cue #9: 17:35-18:05 in the attached link
The next 5 measures of this movement are some of the most creative writing in the entire symphony! As a “climax” to this movement, Dvorak brings back 2 themes from Movement I that appear simultaneously with Theme A of this movement.
Music Cue #10: 20:05-21:07 in the attached link
Theme A returns in the English horn and the movement ends with a transposed version of the original brass chorale that opened the movement; although both end on Db Major. A really cool sonority is sounded at the very conclusion of the movement as Dvorak has the string bass section divide into 4 parts and play a Db Major chord: from bottom to top, Db-Ab-Db-F. Wow! What a beautifully warm sound!
Tomorrow, we’ll explore the final 2 movements of this masterwork!
1) Listen to the first 2 movements of the “New World Symphony” without interruption.
2) Listen to the Symphony with a score
3) Listen to a really fun video about Dvorak and the “New World Symphony”