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Be creative at the Piano (Part 1)
Here’s the method I use every time I want to capture an idea. I draw out 8-bars (or measures) first. Why eight bars? Because it is an ideal framework to work in. Eight bars of music are enough to generate a complete musical sentence and can usually be repeated once or twice. Next, I improvise and see what comes up. THEN, I will write down the chords I am playing and the first 2-bars of melody.
Writing down the first 2-bars of melody helps me remember the entire theme for the 8-bar phrase. I usually stay within one key to make it easy. This means I’ll have 6 chords to work with. In C Major, the chords would be, C Maj. -D min. -E min. -F Maj. -G Maj. and A min. This is more than enough material to work with. In fact, I rarely use more than 3 or 4 chords for the first 8-bars.
Once you get your first 8-bars down, you’re more than halfway home. Why? Because you already have the beginning. The rest of the piece, if there is a rest of the piece, can be finished by drawing more bar lines AND LISTENING FOR THE NEXT SECTION OF MUSIC. This is always accomplished through improvisation. Your best material will ALWAYS come from improvisation because you are not thinking about creating something.
Instead, you are allowing the music that is inside you to come to the surface, without forcing it or willing it into being. You use the 8-bar framework to hold your ideas. There is no rule that says you must work within 8-bars. You can use four or even sixteen bar phrases, however, its good to be able to feel the form and structure of an 8-bar phrase first. It is the structure used by most composers, and it is wise to understand it.
Compose Music the Easy Way!
There are basically two ways to compose music. One way is by starting from the bottom or the harmonic approach. A composer/arranger takes a few chords, a phrase to hang them on and arranges the harmony in some kind of pattern. An example of this is the “loop” you oft en hear in contemporary music. A loop is simply a harmonic background over which a melody (or not) is played.
The second way to compose music is by starting with the melody. Composers may or may not have some idea of the finished idea (I prefer not to) but the melodic idea is fitted into some kind of phrase. The e most common phrase used is the 8-bar phrase. I find that starting with the melody to be the easier approach. Why? Because melody is easier to move forward then harmony. Sure, you can block out a few chords and arrange them to create a loop, but this becomes static over time. Melody is much easier to go forward with.
By using the principles of repetition and contrast, we can create a simple ABA form in no time at all. Then we can go back and harmonize each section. I used to favor the harmonic approach at first. It was very easy to simply jot down chord changes on an 8-bar phrase, create some kind of arrangement, and improvise a melody on top. The ere is nothing wrong with this approach at all. But I soon found myself learning towards the melody first. Not because I think it’s better, but simply because it’s the method I like right now.
Either way, it’s a good idea to compose music using one approach or the other. If you try to harmonize a melody while you’re creating it, it will slow you down and may stop the creative flow.
A student writes: “You always say, ‘let the music tell you where it wants to go’ but when I try to do this nothing comes. What to do?”
This is an excellent question because it really cuts to the core of my whole teaching philosophy, which is -never force or try and “will” music into being. Instead, let it come of its own accord. To illustrate this, I’ll share with you my own process with “coming up” with material.
Usually, I never have problems with the first 8-bars of music – sometimes called the (A) section. But once this section is down, so to speak, the rest of the music (if there is more to come) is usually more difficult for me. I know from experience that if I try and force the music to move forward, I may get somewhere, but this music will usually sound stilted or lifeless. At this point, I can do one of two things… I can walk away and hope for fresh inspiration at a later time, or I can begin improvising without worrying or wondering about “more” music to come. I know there is a school of thought that suggests you plunge forward and “make it happen.” This can work and does work to get a product out there. The problem with this approach is what I mentioned previously. When your ego is involved in the creation process, your creation will be exactly that – ego centered.
When it comes from the source or spirit, you get a music that has that X factor. That indefinable quality that you can hear but quite can’t put your finger on. It really all comes down to process or product. Do you want a nice, neat product that can be admired by friends and family? Then it doesn’t matter how you create music. But if you want a music that comes from a deeper place, don’t force … allow.
Composing Music – How To Compose A Theme and Variations for Piano
Recently, I posted a lesson where I show students how to compose a theme and variations for piano. Now, most composers today do not compose using this musical form. That’s not to say it isn’t still used, but … it can sound antiquated if certain harmonies and sounds are used.
For example, in the lesson, “August Reflections,” I use the A harmonic minor scale and three chords from that scale to create a theme with three variations. This particular sound has been used for quite a while. I chose it because it does sound familiar, and some students wanted to learn something using a minor sounding scale. Notice that the theme itself is quite simple. It consists of two 8-bar phrases that can be called A and B sections. The two sections are played through and then the first variation begins. It consists of broken chords in the left hand.
The second variation is a simple crossover pattern using the same chords -only this time, it’s spread out. This gives the necessary contrast without breaking the “mood” of the piece. The last variation is a play on the melody itself. I think I’m using eighth or sixteenth notes here, as I just play around with breaking up the melody.
Finally, we return to the theme and there you have it… a complete piece of music using the theme and variations technique. A complete step by step breakdown of this lesson is available to course members.
Composing Using Chord Charts
A chord chart is a navigation tool. It’s a way for the composer to chart out musical phrases and notate where chord changes occur. It can be anywhere from 2-bars to 200 bars or more, depending on how long the composition is or how many bars it takes to notate a musical idea.
For example, in the piece “Egrets,” we have an 8-bar phrase with chord changes on top. This is a chord chart. It tells the performer where the chord changes occur, what the melody is, and when to change chords. This is all that is necessary to create a full arrangement of the music. We don’t need to write out every single note. We use the chord changes to create fresh arrangements of how we want the music to sound. Notice that the first 2-bars of melody are written out.
This was the initial idea. I then drew out 8-bars and finished by putting the chord changes on top. Now, whenever I want to play this little piece, I can play the initial melody and the whole thing comes together. Of course, I could have written the whole thing out note for note, but this would have taken 30 times as long as just notating where the chords change. Another benefit of this method is that the music is left elastic and fluid -that is, the aliveness of the music comes to you each and every time you play it. Why? Because each and every note is not written out. You can play it a little differently each time, and each time the music will speak a little differently to you.
Composing Your Own Music – Easier Than You Think
Most teachers make composition so mysterious. First you have to learn harmony… then theory… then form and on and on it goes. But do you really have to learn all of this before launching your own creations? Absolutely not, and I’m living proof of that.
So, how did I do this? Well, first, I had the desire. If you don’t have this ingredient, most anything you try and undertake will fail. Why? Because you need to have persistence. And persistence is something that works better when you want something badly. And I very badly wanted to create my own solo piano music. Now, everyone has their own way and method of going about this. Mine was to first listen to pianists I love and admired – namely George Winston and John Herberman. You see, besides persistence, you also need inspiration.
And what better inspiration is there than to actually hear music you love and admire. In fact, I would listen to these CDs over and over. The music eventually seeped into me, but this in and of itself is not enough. Don’t get me wrong … there’s nothing wrong with listening and saying to yourself, “how did he do that?” In fact, I suggest students do exactly this. But you can jump over all this analyzing by learning just a little theory. And when I say little, I mean it.
What I have my students learn is something called the 8-bar phrase. And this is exactly what it sounds like. Once they get this -and it isn’t hard to get -inroads into composition are quickly discovered.
For example, in the free workbook I offer with my course, you get tons of experience working with 8-bar phrases. You learn how to first improvise through them using chords. When you can do this – and it’s pretty easy as well – you begin to “feel” how a composition is made up. This approach has worked very well for me over the years as well as for my students.
Composing for Piano – Learn How to Improvise First!
When most people hear the word composer, they automatically think of classical composers like Mozart or Beethoven. This is the point where many “would be” composers freeze up because they tell themselves that their music could never be as good. And, this is also the point where would be music makers and their desire to create.
When you compare yourself to another person, you are really defeating the whole idea of creating to begin with. Why? Because your music is as unique as you are! There will never be another person like you and there will never be anyone else who can create music like you. So give up your notions of becoming a great composer. Instead, focus on the joy that comes from being in the moment and creating your own music. To do this, learn how to improvise first.
You must have the ability to move forward without censoring what is coming out of you. Just like writers do with freewriting, so you too must do with improvisation. Once you are able to just sit down at the piano and play without worrying if it’s good enough, you’ll be ready to put pen to paper and compose. Of course, you could compose without learning how to improvise, but chances are the music will sound stodgy and foursquare. It may not have the “life” that most composers shoot for.
Composing for Piano Using Small ABA Form
One of the most daunting tasks for beginners is composing music. Just the thought of it creates scary scenarios that demand perfection. But what if you actually knew what you were doing? Instead of fear, joy and a spirit of adventure would guide you to a finished piece of music. Let’s look at how we might compose a small ABA form for piano.
The first thing I do is draw out 8-bars on a piece of paper. Any paper will do. You don’t have to have ruled sheet music paper to compose…at least not the way I teach it. The reason I tell students to begin with 8-bars is that it’s a very good space to work in. In fact, 8-bars is quite enough to give you your first (A) section. As an example, look at the lesson piece “A Peaceful Path.”Here, we have 3-4 minutes of music. We use the art of repetition and contrast, and a small ABA form is generated.
If you listen to the piece, you’ll hear where the (A) section ends and the (B) section begins. In fact, listening is very important. Most people listen to music as a complete aural experience, and that’s fine. But if you’re interested in musical composition, you should also listen for the form of the piece.
Most piano music is composed using sectional form. For instance, here is the arrangement of the piece, “A Peaceful Path,” – 2A2BA. This is a shorthand way of notating the amount of repeating that goes on in the piece. The first (A) section, 8-bars, is repeated twice, then the (B) section gets repeated twice and finally, we end up back where we started. The e reason ABA form works so well is that it gives the listener a complete musical experience. And it gives them a sense of finality.
Sadly, the music must end somewhere, and composers have been working on different ways to do this via the form of the piece. Many innovative composers have tried to abolish form, but the question you must ask yourself is “Is this music giving the listener an emotional experience?” There’s a good reason ABA form has been around for hundreds of years. Because it works!
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John Cage: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
Music of the mid-20th century was profoundly influenced by the inventive compositions and unorthodox ideas of American avant-garde composer John Milton Cage, Jr. (b. Sept. 5, 1912, Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.—d. Aug. 12, 1992, New York, N.Y.).
The son of an inventor, Cage briefly attended Pomona College and then traveled in Europe for a time. Returning to the United States in 1931, he studied music with Richard Buhlig, Arnold Schoenberg, Adolph Weiss, and Henry Cowell. While teaching in Seattle (1936–38), he began organizing percussion ensembles to perform his compositions, and he began experimenting with works for dance in collaboration with his longtime friend, the choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham.
Cage’s early compositions were written in the 12-tone method of his teacher Schoenberg, but by 1939 he had begun to experiment with increasingly unorthodox instruments such as the “prepared piano” (a piano modified by objects placed between its strings in order to produce percussive and otherworldly sound effects).
John Cage also experimented with tape recorders, record players, and radios in his effort to step outside the bounds of conventional Western music and its concepts of meaningful sound. The concert he gave with his percussion ensemble at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1943 marked the first step in his emergence as a leader of the American musical avant-garde.
In the following years, Cage turned to Zen Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies, concluding that all the activities that make up music must be seen as part of a single natural process. He came to regard all kinds of sounds as potentially musical, and he encouraged audiences to take note of all sonic phenomena, rather than only those elements selected by a composer. To this end he cultivated the principle of indeterminism in his music.
He used a number of devices to ensure randomness and thus eliminate any element of personal taste on the part of the performer: unspecified instruments and numbers of performers, freedom of duration of sounds and entire pieces, inexact notation, and sequences of events determined by random means such as by consultation with the Chinese Yijing (I Ching).
In his later works he extended these freedoms over other media, so that a performance of HPSCHD (completed 1969) might include a light show, slide projections, and costumed performers, as well as the 7 harpsichord soloists and 51 tape machines for which it was scored. Among Cage’s best-known works are 4’33” (Four Minutes and Thirty-three Seconds, 1952), a piece in which the performer or performers remain utterly silent onstage for that amount of time (although the amount of time is left to the determination of the performer);
Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951), for 12 randomly tuned radios, 24 performers, and conductor; the Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48) for prepared piano; Fontana Mix (1958), a piece based on a series of programmed transparent cards that, when superimposed, give a graph for the random selection of electronic sounds; Cheap Imitation (1969), an “impression” of the music of Erik Satie; and Roaratorio (1979), an electronic composition utilizing thousands of words found in James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake.
Cage published several books, including Silence (1961) and M: Writings ’67–’72 (1973). His influence extended to such established composers as Earle Brown, Lejaren Hiller, Morton Feldman, and Christian Wolff.
00:00:00 Three Easy Pieces (1933): Round 00:01:54 Three Easy Pieces (1933): Duo 00:02:36 Three Easy Pieces (1933): infinite CaNon 00:03:11 Three Easy Pieces (1933): Quest 00:04:01 Metamorphosis (1938): Metamorphosis I 00:06:17 Metamorphosis (1938): Metamorphosis II 00:08:54 Metamorphosis (1938): Metamorphosis III
00:13:59 Metamorphosis (1938): Metamorphosis IV 00:15:13 Metamorphosis (1938): Metamorphosis V 00:17:43 Jazz study (1942) 00:20:20 Tripled paced (first version, 1943): Tripled paced – 1a versione I
00:21:16 Tripled paced (first version, 1943): Tripled paced – 1a versione II 00:22:07 Tripled paced (first version, 1943): Tripled paced – 1a versione III 00:22:43 Ad lib 00:25:46 Soliloquy 00:28:21 Ophelia 00:34:45 Two pieces (1946): Two pieces I 00:38:22 Two pieces (1946): Two pieces II 00:42:07 in A landscape 00:50:08 Dream 00:56:24 Suite for toy Piano – versione per Pianoforte – I 00:57:42 Suite for toy Piano – versione per Pianoforte – II 00:59:09 Suite for toy Piano – versione per Pianoforte – III
01:15:47 Socrate (1918) Drame symphonique en trois parties Transcription for two pianos by Cage (1944–1968): II Bords de l’Iliussus (Phèdre) 01:22:39 Socrate (1918) Drame symphonique en trois parties Transcription for two pianos by Cage (1944–1968): III Morte de Socrate (Phédon) 01:38:23 Cheap imitation (1969) I 01:44:26 Cheap imitation (1969) II 01:53:28 Cheap imitation (1969) III 02:09:39 Etudes Boreales I (Piano) 02:15:13 Etudes Boreales II (Piano)
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Woody Guthrie: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
The songs of prolific American folksinger and songwriter Woodrow (“Woody”) Wilson Guthrie (b. July 14, 1912, Okemah, Okla., U.S.—d. Oct. 3, 1967, New York, N.Y.) chronicled the plight of common people, especially during the Great Depression.
Woody Guthrie, the third of five children, was the son of a onetime cowboy, land speculator, and local Democratic politician who named him after Pres. Woodrow Wilson. His mother, who introduced her children to a wide variety of music, was thought to be mentally ill and was institutionalized when Guthrie was a teenager. Her erratic behavior was actually caused by Huntington’s disease, a hereditary neurological disorder about which little was known at the time and which would later afflict Guthrie too. The family lived near the relocated Creek nation in Okemah, Okla., a small agricultural and railroad town that boomed in the 1920s when oil was discovered in the area. The effect on the town and its people of the decline that followed the boom sensitized the young Guthrie to others’ suffering, which he had also experienced firsthand through the calamities that befell his splintering family. (Guthrie paid particular attention to this period of his life in his autobiographical novel Bound for Glory .)
Soon after his mother’s institutionalization, Guthrie began “rambling” for the first time, coming to love life on the road. Though he often left Okemah to travel during his teens, he always returned to continue his high school education. At age 19 he relocated to Pampa, Texas, where he married Mary Jennings, with whom he had three children. When the Great Depression deepened and drought turned a large section of the Great Plains into the Dust Bowl, making it impossible for Guthrie to support his family, he again took to the road. Like so many other displaced people from the region (collectively called “Okies” regardless of whether they were Oklahomans), he headed for California, playing his guitar and harmonica and singing in taverns, taking odd jobs, and visiting hobo camps as he traveled by freight train, hitchhiked, or simply walked westward.
In Los Angeles in 1937, he landed a spot performing on the radio, first with his cousin, Jack Guthrie, then with Maxine Crissman, who called herself Lefty Lou. At that time Guthrie began songwriting in earnest, giving voice to the struggles of the dispossessed and downtrodden while celebrating their indomitable spirit in songs such as “Do Re Mi,” “Pretty Boy Floyd,” and “Dust Bowl Refugee.”
Guthrie’s politics became increasingly leftist, and by the time he moved to New York City in 1940 he had become an important musical spokesman for labor and populist sentiments, embraced by left-leaning intellectuals and courted by communists. In New York, to which he had brought his family, Guthrie became one of the principal songwriters for the Almanac Singers, a group of activist performers—including Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Cisco Houston—who used their music to attack fascism and support humanitarian and leftist causes.
In 1941 Guthrie made his first recordings, with folklorist Alan Lomax, and traveled to the Pacific Northwest, where a commission to write songs in support of federal dam building and electrification projects produced such well-known compositions as “Grand Coulee Dam” and “Roll On Columbia.” Back in New York after serving as a merchant marine during World War II, his first marriage having ended in divorce, Guthrie married Marjorie (Greenblatt) Mazia, a Martha Graham Dance Company dancer with whom he would have four children (including son Arlo, who would become an important singer-songwriter in his own right in the 1960s).
As the political tide in the United States turned conservative and then reactionary during the 1950s, Guthrie and his folksinger friends in New York kept alive the flame of activist music making. He continued writing and performing politically charged songs that inspired the American folk revival of the 1960s, at the head of which were performers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs, who came to pay homage to Guthrie in his hospital room in New Jersey, to which he was confined beginning in 1954, after his increasingly erratic actions were finally and correctly diagnosed as the result of Huntington’s disease.
Among the more than 1,000 songs that Guthrie wrote were a number of remarkable children’s songs written in the language and from the perspective of childhood, as well as some of the most lasting and influential songs in the canon of American music, not least “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know Yuh)”, “Hard Traveling,” “Blowing Down This Old Dusty Road, ” “Union Maid,” and (inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath) “Tom Joad .” Probably the most famous of his works is “This Land Is Your Land, ” which became a pillar of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
At the time of his death in 1967, Guthrie had already begun to assume legendary stature as a folk figure, and his influence on such pivotal singer-songwriters as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen was immense. A film version of his book Bound for Glory appeared in 1976, and in 1998 Billy Bragg and alternative rockers Wilco released the critically acclaimed Mermaid Avenue , a collection of previously unrecorded lyrics by Guthrie that they had set to music; Mermaid Avenue Vol. II followed in 2000.
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Robert Johnson: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
Robert Johnson (b. c. 1911, Hazlehurst, Miss., U.S.—d. Aug. 16, 1938, near Greenwood, Miss.) was an American blues composer, guitarist, and singer whose eerie falsetto singing voice and masterful, rhythmic slide guitar influenced both his contemporaries and many later blues and rock musicians.
Robert Johnson was the product of a confusing childhood, with three men serving as his father before he reached age seven. Little is known about his biological father (Noah Johnson, whom his mother never married), and the boy and his mother lived on various plantations in the Mississippi Delta region before settling briefly in Memphis, Tenn., with her first husband (Robert Dodds, who had changed his surname to Spencer).
The bulk of Johnson’s youth, however, was spent in Robinsonville, Miss., with his mother and her second husband (Dusty Willis). There, Johnson learned to play the Jew’s harp and harmonica before taking up the guitar. In 1929, he married 16-year-old Virginia Travis, whose death in childbirth (along with that of their baby) in April 1930 devastated Johnson.
In Robinsonville he came in contact with well-known Mississippi Delta bluesmen Willie Brown, Charley Patton, and Son House—all of whom influenced his playing and none of whom was particularly impressed by his talent. They were dazzled by his musical ability, however, when he returned to town after spending as much as a year away. That time away is central to Johnson’s mythic status.
According to legend, during that period Johnson made a deal with Satan at a crossroads, acquiring his prodigious talent as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter in exchange for the stipulation that he would have only eight more years to live. (A similar story circulated in regard to another Mississippi bluesman, Tommy Johnson.)
Music historian Robert Palmer, in is highly regarded book Deep Blues (1981), instead ascribes Robert Johnson’s remarkable musical attainments to the time he had to hone his skills as a guitarist under the instruction of Ike Zinneman as a result of the financial support he received from the older woman he married near Hazlehurst, Miss. (Johnson’s birthplace), and to the wide variety of music to which he was exposed during his hiatus from Robinsonville, including the singlestring picking styles of Lonnie Johnson and Scrapper Blackwell.
After returning briefly to Robinsonville, Johnson settled in Helena, Ark., where he played with Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and Howlin’ Wolf, among others. He also became involved with Estella Coleman and informally adopted her son, Robert Lockwood, Jr., who later became a notable blues musician under the name Robert Jr. Lockwood. Johnson traveled widely throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee and as far north as Chicago and New York, playing at house parties, juke joints, and lumber camps and on the street.
In 1936–37 he made a series of recordings in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas, and a warehouse in Dallas. His repertoire included several blues songs by House and others, but Johnson’s original numbers, such as “Me and the Devil Blues,” “Hellhound on My Trail,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Ramblin’ on My Mind,” and “Love in Vain” are his most compelling pieces. Unlike the songs of many of his contemporaries—which tended to unspool loosely, employing combinations of traditional and improvised lyrics—Johnson’s songs were tightly composed, and his song structure and lyrics were praised by Bob Dylan.
Despite the limited number of his recordings, Johnson had a major impact on other musicians, including Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones. Johnson died of poisoning after drinking strychnine-laced whiskey in a juke joint.
00:00 “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” Robert Johnson 02:58 “Phonograph Blues” Robert Johnson 05:33 “Phonograph Blues (Alt. Version – Take 2)” Robert Johnson 08:08 “Ramblin’ On My Mind” Robert Johnson 11:01 “Ramblin’ On My Mind (Alt. Version – Take 2)” Robert Johnson 13:23 “Kindhearted Woman Blues” Robert Johnson 16:14 “Kindhearted Woman Blues (Alt. Version Take 2)” Robert Johnson 18:46 “Terraplane Blues” Robert Johnson
21:46 “I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man” Robert Johnson 24:24 “Walking Blues” Robert Johnson 26:53 “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” Robert Johnson 29:32 “Dead Shrimp Blues” Robert Johnson 32:09 “Sweet Home Chicago” Robert Johnson 35:11 “32-20 Blues” Robert Johnson 38:02 “Come On In My Kitchen” Robert Johnson 40:52 “Come On In My Kitchen (Alt. Version – Take 2)” Robert Johnson
43:30 “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” Robert Johnson 46:04 “Me And The Devil Blues” Robert Johnson 48:36 “Me And The Devil Blues (Alt. Version – Take 1)” Robert Johnson 51:12 “Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)” Robert Johnson 54:05 “Stones In My Passway” Robert Johnson
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Mahalia Jackson: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
American gospel music singer Mahalia Jackson
(b. Oct. 26, 1911, New Orleans, La., U.S.—d. Jan. 27, 1972, Evergreen Park, near Chicago, Ill.) is known as the “Queen of Gospel Song.
Jackson was brought up in a strict religious atmosphere. Her father’s family included several entertainers, but she was forced to confine her own musical activities to singing in the church choir and listening—surreptitiously—to recordings of Bessie Smith and Ida Cox as well as of Enrico Caruso. When she was 16 she went to Chicago and joined the Greater Salem Baptist Church choir, where her remarkable contralto voice, soon led to her selection as a soloist.
Jackson first came to wide public attention in the 1930s, when she participated in a cross-country gospel tour, singing such songs as “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “I Can Put My Trust in Jesus.” In 1934 her first recording, “God Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares,” was a success, leading to a series of other recordings.
Jackson’s first great hit, “Move on Up a Little Higher,” appeared in 1945; it was especially important for its use of the “vamp,” an indefinitely repeated phrase (or chord pattern) that provides a foundation for solo improvisation.
All the songs with which she was identified—including “I Believe,” “Just over the Hill,” “When I Wake Up in Glory,” and “Just a Little While to Stay Here”—were gospel songs, with texts drawn from biblical themes and strongly influenced by the harmonies, rhythms, and emotional force of blues. Jackson refused to sing any but religious songs, or indeed to sing at all in surroundings that she considered inappropriate. But she sang on the radio and on television and, starting in 1950, performed to overflow audiences in annual concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Eight of Jackson’s records sold more than a million copies each.
Jackson was enormously popular abroad; her version of “Silent Night,” for example, was one of the all-time bestselling records in Denmark. She made a notable appearance at the Newport (Rhode Island) Jazz Festival in 1957—in a program devoted entirely, at her request, to gospel songs— and she sang at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in January 1961. In the 1950s and ’60s she was active in the civil rights movement; in 1963 she sang the old African American spiritual “I Been ’Buked and I Been Scorned” for a crowd of more than 200,000 in Washington, D.C., just before Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
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Bill Monroe: The 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
Bill Monroe (b. Sept. 13, 1911, Rosine, Ky., U.S.—d. Sept. 9, 1996, Springfield, near Nashville, Tenn.)
Creation of the bluegrass style of country music is credited to American singer, songwriter, and mandolin player William (“Bill”) Smith Monroe.
The youngest of eight children of a Kentucky farmer and entrepreneur, Monroe was exposed early to traditional folk music by his mother. Another important early musical influence on the young Monroe was Arnold Schultz, a local African American miner who also was an accomplished fiddler and guitarist, and who played both blues and country music.
Monroe began playing the mandolin professionally in 1927 in a band led by his older brothers Birch and Charlie. In 1930 they moved to Indiana, and in 1932 they joined a barn-dance touring show; their reputation grew, but, because Birch did not like to travel, Bill and Charlie maintained the Monroe Brothers as a duo, touring widely from Nebraska to South Carolina.
In 1936, they made their first recordings on the RCA Victor label, recording 60 songs for Victor over the next two years. In 1938 Bill and Charlie decided to form separate bands. Bill’s second band, the Blue Grass Boys (his first, called the Kentuckians, played together for only three months), auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry on radio station WSM in Nashville, Tenn., and became regular performers on that program in 1939.
Monroe’s signature sound emerged fully in 1945, when banjoist Earl Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt joined his band. Scruggs was among the first banjoists in country music whose principal role was musical rather than comical; Monroe’s original banjoist David (“Stringbean”) Akeman had provided a humorous touch to the proceedings. The Blue Grass Boys established the classic makeup of a bluegrass group—with mandolin, fiddle, guitar, banjo, and upright bass—and ultimately bequeathed the band’s name to the genre itself.
Bluegrass is characterized by acoustic instruments; a driving syncopated rhythm; tight, complex harmonies; and the use of higher keys—B-flat, B, and E rather than the customary G, C, and D. The band played traditional folk songs and Monroe’s own compositions, the most famous of which were “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (later famously covered and transformed by a young Elvis Presley), “Uncle Pen” (a tribute to another early influence on Monroe, his fiddle-playing uncle Pendleton Vandiver), and “Raw Hide.”
Although Monroe had sung only harmony as a member of the Monroe Brothers, his high, mournful tenor (both as lead and backing voice) established the convention of bluegrass music’s “high lonesome” vocals, and his breakneck-tempo mandolin playing set the standard for other bluegrass performers.
The Blue Grass Boys enjoyed wide popularity, but Scruggs and Flatt quit in 1948 in order to form their own influential bluegrass band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. Soon other bands playing this style of music began to appear, many of them led by former members of Monroe’s band, such as Sonny Osborne (the Osborne Brothers), Carter Stanley (who with his brother Ralph formed the Stanley Brothers), Don Reno, Jimmy Martin, and Mac Wiseman. Bluegrass was promoted at numerous annual festivals, such as the one founded by Monroe in 1967 at Bean Blossom, Ind. He continued to perform until shortly before his death. Monroe’s last performance occurred on March 15, 1996. He ended his touring and playing career in April, following a stroke. Monroe died on September 9, 1996, in Springfield, Tennessee, four days before his 85th birthday.
Most people are familiar only with Khachaturian’s ballet music for Gayaneh and Spartacus, which regularly appears in concert programmes, but he also wrote a considerable amount of piano music, though only the sparkling, technically-challenging Toccata has made it into the recital repertoire.
Born in 1903, Aram Khachaturian became the most significant twentieth-century musical figure in Armenia, then a republic of the Soviet Union, and the most important Soviet composer after Shostakovich and Prokofiev. He was born in Tblisi, in Georgia, to Armenian parents, and he never lost touch with his Central Asian heritage. His music combines the folk idioms, rhythms and sensual harmonies and melodies of his homeland with the Russian classical tradition. In the post-Soviet era, he is celebrated as a cultural hero in Armenia.
The charming Children’s Album, also known as The Adventures of Ivan, originally written for pedagogical purposes, these appealing miniatures are by turns poignant, witty and playful, often infused with folk idioms.
His other significant compositions include the Masquerade Suite (1941), the Anthem of the Armenian SSR (1944), three symphonies (1935, 1943, 1947), and around 25 film scores. Khachaturian is best known for his ballet music—Gayane (1942) and Spartacus (1954). His most popular piece, the “Sabre Dance” from Gayane, has been used extensively in popular culture and has been covered by a number of musicians worldwide. His style is “characterized by colorful harmonies, captivating rhythms, virtuosity, improvisations, and sensuous melodies”.
During most of his career, Khachaturian was approved by the Soviet government and held several high posts in the Union of Soviet Composers from the late 1930s, although he joined the Communist Party only in 1943. Along with Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, he was officially denounced as a “formalist” and his music dubbed “anti-people” in 1948 but was restored later that year. After 1950 he taught at the Gnessin Institute and the Moscow Conservatory and turned to conducting. He traveled to Europe, Latin America and the United States with concerts of his own works. In 1957 Khachaturian became the Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, a position he held until his death.
Khachaturian composed the first Armenian ballet music, symphony, concerto, and film score. He is considered the most renowned Armenian composer of the 20th century. While following the established musical traditions of Russia, he broadly used Armenian and, to lesser extent, Caucasian, Eastern and Central European, and Middle Eastern peoples’ folk music in his works. He is highly regarded in Armenia, where he is considered a “national treasure”.
Khachaturian is best known internationally for his ballet music. His second ballet, Gayane, was largely reworked from his first ballet, Happiness. Spartacus became his most acclaimed work in the post-Stalin period. These two compositions “remain his most successful compositions”. According to Jonathan McCollum and Andy Nercessian, his music for these two ballets “can safely be included among the best known pieces of classical music throughout the world, a fact that is vitalized by perception that these are perhaps the only works through that the world really knows Armenian music”. Ann Haskins of LA Weekly suggests that he has thus “made an indelible mark on the world of ballet”.
I do not see how modern composers could isolate themselves from life and not want to work among society. The more impressions that come from contact with life, the more and better the creative ideas.
Musicologist Marina Frolova-Walker describes Khachaturian as the only internationally renowned Soviet composer “who emerged from the nationalist project”. James Bakst interpreted Khachaturian’s views as follows: “Music is a language created by the people. The people create intonational music forms which reveal at once his national elements of an art work.”
Composer Tigran Mansurian suggested that Khachaturian’s music incorporates American characteristics and called the United States his “second homeland” in terms of musical influences, especially due to the sense of optimism in his works and lifestyle.
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Dmitry Shostakovich: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
Russian composer Dmitry Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (b. Sept. 12 [Sept. 25, New Style], 1906, St. Petersburg, Russia —d. Aug. 9, 1975, Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R.) was renowned particularly for his 15 symphonies numerous chamber works, and concerti, many of them written under the pressures of government-imposed standards of Soviet art.
Early Life and Works
Shostakovich was the son of an engineer. He entered the Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg, subsequently Leningrad) Conservatory in 1919, where he studied piano with Leonid Nikolayev until 1923 and composition until 1925 with Aleksandr Glazunov and Maksimilian Steinberg. Even before his keyboard success in Warsaw, he had had a far greater success as a composer with the Symphony No. 1 (1924–25), which quickly achieved worldwide currency. The symphony’s stylistic roots were numerous; the influence of composers as diverse as Tchaikovsky and Paul Hindemith is clearly discernible. In the music Shostakovich wrote in the next few years he submitted to an even wider range of influences, and Shostakovich openly experimented with avant-garde trends.
His satiric opera The Nose (composed 1927–28), based on Nikolay Gogol’s story Nos, displayed a comprehensive awareness of what was new in Western music, although already it seems as if the satire is extended to the styles themselves, for the avant-garde sounds are contorted with wry humor. Not surprisingly, Shostakovich’s finer second opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (composed 1930–32; revised and retitled Katerina Izmaylova), marked a stylistic retreat. Yet even this more accessible musical language was too radical for the Soviet authorities.
From 1928, when Joseph Stalin inaugurated his First Five-Year Plan, a direct and popular style was demanded in music. Avant-garde music and jazz were officially banned in 1932. Shostakovich did not experience immediate official displeasure, but when it came it was devastating. A performance of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936 precipitated the official condemnation of the opera and of its creator.
Shostakovich was bitterly attacked in the official press, and both the opera and the still-unperformed Symphony No. 4 (1935–36) were withdrawn. The composer responded with his next major work, Symphony No. 5 (1937). Compounded largely of serious, even somber and elegiac music and presented with a compelling directness, the symphony scored an immediate success with both the public and the authorities.
With his Symphony No. 5, Shostakovich forged the style that he used in his subsequent compositions. Gustav Mahler was a clear progenitor of both Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 5, but the latter represented a drastic shift in technique. Whereas the earlier symphony had been a sprawling work, founded upon a free proliferation of melodic ideas, the first movement of Symphony No. 5 was marked by melodic concentration and Classical form.
Indeed, Shostakovich had an almost obsessive concern with the working out of a single expressive character, which can also be seen in the recurrence in his mature music of certain thematic ideas, notably various permutations founded upon the juxtaposition of the major and minor third, and the four-note cell D-E♭-C-B derived from the composer’s initials in their German equivalent (D. Sch.), interpreted according to the labels of German musical notation (in which “S,” spoken as “Es,” equals E♭ and “h” equals B).
In 1937 Shostakovich became a teacher of composition in the Leningrad Conservatory, and the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 found him still in that city. He composed his Symphony No. 7 (1941) in beleaguered Leningrad during the latter part of that year and finished it in Kuybyshev (now Samara), to which he and his family had been evacuated.
The work achieved a quick fame, as much because of the quasi-romantic circumstances of its composition as because of its musical quality. In 1943 Shostakovich settled in Moscow as a teacher of composition at the conservatory, and from 1945 he taught also at the Leningrad Conservatory.
Later Life and Works
Shostakovich’s works written during the mid-1940s contain some of his best music, especially the Symphony No. 8 (1943), the Piano Trio (1944), and the Violin Concerto No. 1 (1947–48). Their prevailing seriousness, even grimness, was to contribute to Shostakovich’s second fall from official grace. When the Cold War began, the Soviet authorities sought to impose a firmer ideological control, demanding a more accessible musical language than some composers were currently using. In Moscow in 1948, at a now notorious conference, the leading figures of Soviet music—including Shostakovich—were attacked and disgraced.
As a result, the quality of Soviet composition slumped in the next few years, and his teaching activities at both the Moscow and Leningrad conservatories were terminated. Yet he was not completely intimidated, and, in his String Quartet No. 4 (1949) and especially his Quartet No. 5 (1951), he offered a splendid rejoinder to those who would have had him renounce completely his style and musical integrity. His Symphony No. 10, composed in 1953, the year of Stalin’s death, flew in the face of his official detractors, yet, like his Symphony No. 5, compelled acceptance by sheer quality and directness.
From that time on, Shostakovich’s biography is essentially a catalog of his works. He was left to pursue his creative career largely unhampered by official interference. The composer had visited the United States in 1949, and in 1958 he made an extended tour of Western Europe, where he received a number of honors for his music.
After Prokofiev’s death in 1953, he was the undisputed head of Russian music. Since his own death, his music has been the subject of furious contention between those upholding the Soviet view of the composer as a sincere Communist and those who view him as a closet dissident.
(0:00) Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43: Moderato con moto (8:45) Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47: Moderato (24:16) Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47: Allegro non troppo (35:47) Symphony No. 7 in C major (Leningrad), Op. 60: Memories, Moderato (poco allegretto) (46:16) Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65 (Stalingrad): Allegro non troppo (53:00) Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93: Andante (1:05:17) Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103 (The Year 1905): Palace Square: adagio (1:20:44) Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141: Adagio – allegretto – adagio – allegretto (1:34:41) Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67: Andante – Moderato
(1:41:55) Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67: Allegretto (1:52:19) Piano Concerto No. 1, for piano, trumpet & strings, in C minor, Op. 35: Lento (1:59:35) Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102: Allegro (2:06:56) Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77 Passacaglia, andante, cadenza (2:25:16) Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 107: Allegretto (2:31:32) Chamber Symphony in F major, Op. 73a (2:39:51) Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 2: Dance No. 1 (2:42:52) Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 2: March (2:46:02) Quintet for piano & strings in G minor, Op. 57: Scherzo: Allegretto
(2:49:28) Sonata for piano No. 2 in B minor, Op. 61: Allegretto (2:57:00) String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110: Largo (3:01:34) String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 122: Introduction (andantino) (3:03:49) String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 122: Recitativo (adagio) (3:05:09) String Quartet No. 15 in E flat minor, Op. 144: Elegy (adagio) (3:17:31) Hamlet, suite from the film score, Op.116a (assembled by Atovmyan): Prelude (3:19:53) Overture on Russian and Khirghiz Folksongs, for orchestra, Op. 115
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Table of Contents
Antonín Dvořák and his Symphony No. 9 in E minor Op. 95 (New World Symphony) Piano arrangement
During the last years of his life the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was considered by many throughout the Western world to be the greatest of all living composers. And his popularity has never waned: his music still speaks to us today and occupies a conspicuous position in performance repertoire.
In part this merely reflects the fact that his oeuvre is extraordinarily large and varied. He was one of the most prolific of all great composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and left substantial outputs in practically all major genres from short piano pieces to operas. Even within genres, moreover, we find an astonishingly broad range of style – in string quartets ♫, for instance, from the mind-boggling chromatic intensity of some passages in early and middle-period works to the Finale of the “American” Quartet ♫ with its down-home, rollicking barn dance.
However, the quantity and diversity of Dvořák’s output are complemented by its generally very high quality, with many of his works holding a place among the greatest musical achievements of their time – or perhaps any time. His music probes the depths and all the nooks and crannies of our emotions, making us cringe in agony and weep with sorrow, but also laugh and smile through tears of rapture. Further adding to his appeal is his life’s story as a ”self-made” man who, through talent, hard work, and indefatigable determination overcame poverty and low social standing to become an artist admired (and well compensated financially) all over the Western world.
1841-57: CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE IN NORTHERN BOHEMIA
Oldest known photo (1888) of the house where Dvořák was born. Standing third from left: the composer.
Dvořák was born on 8 September 1841 in the Czech village of Nelahozeves, in the region called Bohemia – one of the two main Czech lands (together with Moravia to its east) in the Austrian (from 1867 called Austro-Hungarian) Empire of central and east-central Europe, having its main capital in Vienna. In Nelahozeves, lying on the Vltava River just thirteen miles to the north-northwest from the Bohemian capital of Prague, he spent the first twelve years of his life. For much of that time his parents operated a tavern in premises they had on lease which also included minimal space for their own living quarters.
It was in those premises (today housing the Antonín Dvořák Memorial in Nelahozeves) that the composer came into the world. But his father also ran a butcher’s business, mainly in a building upstream along the Vltava no longer standing today with an apartment which was the family’s residence for much of this period. Neither of these businesses thrived. Reportedly the father devoted more time and attention to his passion for music – mainly as a zither player – than to his enterprises.
The dance hall found in the tavern provided the young Antonín with vivid experiences of village dance bands and musical merriment. One should not imagine, however, that he was exposed only to music indigenous to rural Bohemia. His father had apparently learned to play the zither while wandering around the Empire from 1832 to 1840, spending most of that time in Hungary. Meanwhile in the village church in Nelahozeves the boy heard frequent performances of music by Mozart, and Italian workers brought in to dig a tunnel for the new railroad in 1847-48 liked to gather in the evenings around the Dvořák butcher shop where they would sing their favorite songs from home – one can imagine the famous chorus of the Hebrews from Nabucco, which was just then all the rage in Italy. Construction of the railroad – the first link between Prague and Dresden – may have planted the seed for Dvořák’s passionate interest in railways and locomotives, well-documented for the last two decades of his life.
From 1846 to 1853 Dvořák attended the one-room elementary school in Nelahozeves – a type of school for which the law of the Austrian Empire on education prescribed a curriculum for the lower classes, expected to remain in their social place and have no higher ambitions. But the teacher Josef Spitz was a very skilled musician, like most school teachers in Bohemia in those days; he gave the boy instruction in violin (starting around the age of six, apparently) and singing.
In 1853 young Antonín moved about nine miles to the west to the somewhat larger town of Zlonice, where he lived with his uncle and aunt. Here again he attended an elementary school, but of a somewhat higher caliber, with instruction given in the German language as was almost always the case in better schools in Bohemia at that time. It appears that he dropped out of school there early on, perhaps because of insufficient knowledge of German. But he remained in Zlonice a total of three years and bettered his musical skills there mainly under the tutelage of Antonín Liehmann, adding organ and piano to his abilities as a performer and undertaking his first attempts at composition, including a simple polka for piano (B. 1 – the first item in Jarmil Burghauser’s thematic catalogue of Dvořák’s works) and at least one other polka for instrumental ensemble now lost but described by the composer in later recollections.
Common in the Dvořák literature is the assertion that he worked as a butcher’s apprentice in Zlonice and received a journeyman’s certificate. This has proven to be erroneous, but apparently after the boy’s parents and siblings themselves moved to Zlonice in 1855 he did help his father in the butcher’s business he established there.
A brief but important phase in the budding composer’s adolescence was the 1856-57 school year, when he lived with a German family in the small city of Böhmisch Kamnitz (today called Česká Kamenice), fifty-three miles north of Prague near the Bohemian border with Saxony in an area then inhabited almost entirely by ethnic Germans. Apparently his parents sent him there for him to learn the German language, which was essential for anyone in the Austrian Empire needing to communicate regularly with persons above the lower social strata. Here he also attended a purely-German school, where his marks in all subjects were ‘sehr gut’ – the highest possible grade. And he continued his training in music with the local church music director, Franz Hanke.
1857-71: YEARS OF STRUGGLE IN PRAGUE, COMPOSING IN A VACUUM
In 1857 at the age of sixteen Dvořák enrolled as a pupil in the Institute for Church Music in Prague, which city remained his principal residence for the rest of his life. (Even while in America from 1892 to 1895 he maintained his apartment in Prague.) After Vienna, Prague was the second-largest city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (bumped down one notch in 1872 by the union of Buda and Pest). Prague was cosmopolitan and thoroughly multi-cultural, with ethnic Czechs constituting the majority of the population but a large minority of Germans and a substantial population of (mostly German-speaking) Jews as well. Dvořák maintained friendly relations with all, but was strongly affected by the fervent nationalistic ambitions of his fellow Czechs – a Slavic people struggling to assert its cultural identity and accomplishments after centuries of forced ”Germanization” by the emperors of the ruling Hapsburg dynasty. To some extent Dvořák sympathized with Czech nationalist aims – certainly he was proud of his Czech heritage, and sometimes offended by German attitudes of superiority – but he also saw the positions taken by many of his compatriots in these matters as being fanatical and intolerant.
The curriculum at the Institute for Church Music included all skills needed by a proper church musician at that time including composition. While a student there Dvořák composed several preserved organ preludes and fugues (B. 302) and also at least one mass (B. 2), which, however – like many more works he wrote through 1873 – he himself later consigned to the flames. He graduated in 1859 ranking second in his class of fourteen after one Sigmund Glanz (whose subsequent career was thoroughly undistinguished).
During his first year in Prague Dvořák attended concurrently a general school associated with the Church of Mary of the Snows. There, with German again as the language of instruction, he once more received high marks. But attendance at this school, still at an elementary level and for Dvořák essentially ”remedial,” marked the end of his formal education outside music.
One of Dvořák’s fellow students at the Institute for Church Music, a year ahead of him in the curriculum, was Karel Bendl (1838-97) who became his close friend. Bendl soon emerged as a highly esteemed composer – until 1878 much more so than Dvořák. Bendl had relatively wealthy parents and, unlike his impoverished friend, could afford a piano as well as an extensive library of scores. He allowed use of both to Dvořák, who continued his musical education during the 1860s by studying the scores of works by great (mostly German) masters.
After graduating from the Institute Dvořák applied for a position as church organist but was rejected. Around that time he became violist in an entertainment orchestra playing in coffee houses and restaurants, which in 1862 was hired as the core of the orchestra for the newly opened Provisional Czech Theater. There Dvořák served as principal violist for nine years, playing in performances nearly every evening year-round. In this position he experienced, for example, the first performances of the first three operas of Bedřich Smetana under the composer’s baton along with many other new works by other Czech compatriots. Most of the repertoire, however, was Italian, French, and German.
To supplement his low salary as an orchestra member, Dvořák gave private piano lessons. Starting in 1864 two of his pupils were the sisters Josefina and Anna Čermáková, fifteen and ten years old at that time. Long after Dvořák’s death his composition pupil and son-in-law Josef Suk (1874-1935) reported that the young composer had fallen in love with Josefina, a beautiful and very popular actress in the theater where he played, but, sensing no interest on her part, did not even tell her of his feelings. This was apparently around 1865, during which year he composed a cycle of eighteen songs to texts by Gustav Pfleger-Moravský about frustrated love known as Cypresses (B. 11).
In 1873 he married Josefina’s younger sister Anna, a talented singer with whom by all indications he enjoyed a very happy marriage for the rest of his life. The couple maintained close contact with Josefina and her later husband Count Václav Kounic, and according to Suk the extensive passage of poignant nostalgia at the conclusion of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor (B. 191), completed in 1895, was composed as a memorial to Josefina who died just at that time. This passage includes a quotation of Dvořák’s own song Leave Me Alone (B. 157, No. 1), which according to his biographer Otakar Šourek (perhaps also based on information from Suk) was a special favorite of Josefina.
For his first sixteen years in Prague, Dvořák lived with relatives, save only a period in 1864-65 when he shared a single room with four other men, reportedly for the reason that one of them had a piano there. Paradoxically it was precisely while living in those cramped quarters, during the year 1865, that he produced an especially copious outpouring of music – besides the mentioned songs also his first two symphonies (B. 9 and 12) and a Cello Concerto in A major (B. 10) with piano accompaniment .
Throughout the 1860s and on through most of 1871 Dvořák composed prolifically – orchestral and chamber works, songs, and two operas – but without receiving a single performance to our knowledge, let alone a publication. He probably lacked the connections and the social skills to promote himself successfully, but another factor was undoubtedly the difficulty of his works for the performers and their often highly original, experimental style. For example, the style of his String Quartet in E minor / B minor from 1870 or earlier (B. 19) reminds one of nothing so much as Arnold Schoenberg’s chromatic and tonally nebulous Transfigured Night – composed thirty years later!
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Dvořák’s success, though, was the fact that by comparison with Smetana, and even his friend Bendl, he made practically no attempt to satisfy the appetite of the Czechs for music they could consider distinctively their own. In recalling later what composers had influenced him he mentioned mainly German names: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann – and above all in the 1860s and early 1870s he was ”perfectly crazy” about Wagner (though we must discount as undocumented and unlikely the frequent assertion that he played in an orchestra under Wagner’s baton). His first opera Alfred (B. 16), composed in 1870, is symptomatically to a text in German (with a story set in England) – and was never performed during his lifetime.
1871-73: HOPES AROUSED AND DASHED
Charles Plaza in Prague 1870. Through most of the 1860’s until his marriage in 1873 Dvořák lived with relatives in a building at the upper right.
Composed in 1871, only a year after Alfred, Dvořák’s second opera King and Collier (Král a uhlíř, B. 21, translated by Burghauser as King and Charcoal Burner) has a story set in Bohemia and a text in Czech. Yet he admittedly modelled its music on the style of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. Even so Smetana, now head of the Provisional Czech Theatre’s opera company, accepted it for performance. Apparently encouraged, Dvořák left his position in the theater orchestra sometime during 1871 to devote more time to composition, and as far as we know had no regular employment for a period of nearly three years. Rehearsals for the opera were postponed until late 1873, but in the meantime some other new works by Dvořák were performed, starting modestly in December 1871 with a song to a text by Eliška Krásnohorská (B. 23, No. 5). Most significant was a seventeen-minute Czech patriotic Ode (in Czech called Hymnus, B. 27) for chorus and orchestra with which he scored a triumph in March 1873.
That spring he also achieved his first publication, of six songs (B. 30) to texts from the Dvůr Králové Manuscript – texts that played an important role in the Czech national revival movement, set to music also by several of his contemporaries.
It was probably around the beginning of July 1873 that he and Anna Čermáková conceived a child (born 4 April 1874), and also that he completed his joyous Third Symphony in E flat (B. 34), a masterful work, though in a style quite different from the familiar music of his maturity and still showing, among other things, the influence of Wagner.
In August 1873 rehearsals finally began for King and Collier – and the opera was pronounced unperformable! Royalties therefrom would have been Dvořák’s only opportunity to earn income from his compositions; throughout this period, until 1878, he received no fees from publishers for works they issued. Merriment on the occasion of the wedding in November 1873, with a child already on the way, must have been dampened by great anxiety – as can perhaps be heard in the Fourth Symphony (B. 41), completed in March 1874. Later Dvořák recalled how during the early days of his marriage he was tempted to steal bread to feed his family.
1874-77: MODEST RECOGNITION AS A COMPOSER BY FITS AND STARTS, FAMILY TRAGEDY
In February 1874 Dvořák accepted a miserably-paid position as church organist, which he held for three years. The rejected opera King and Collier, like its predecessor Alfred, was never performed during his lifetime, but he took the extraordinary step of setting the same libretto to entirely new music (B. 42), not retaining a single motive from the first setting, and now employing a style that was simpler and more folk-like, which Czech audiences could accept as their own. This entirely new King and Collier (in the literature often called misleadingly a new version of the same opera) was performed four times from November 1874 to January 1875 and received enthusiastic reviews.
Dvořák followed it up immediately with the charming one-act opera The Stubborn Lovers (B. 46)–which, however, had to wait a full seven years for its premiere!
Meanwhile in July 1874 Dvořák applied for a grant offered by the Austrian government to talented but poor artists, and in February 1875 he received the first of five such annual grants. The jury was chaired by the influential Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, and starting with Dvořák’s second application another member was Johannes Brahms. Both would later become instrumental in promoting his works in Austria and Germany.
The grants were by no means sufficient to support a growing family – Anna helped to some extent by performing as a paid church singer – but they apparently gave encouragement to the ever-hopeful composer. In 1875, the most prolific year of his life, he composed many works in which he may be said to have ‘found his voice’, including the earliest of his pieces to become an immortal ‘hit’ – the String Serenade in E major (B. 52) ♫ – but also for example the grand opera Vanda (B. 55) ♫, presented on stage five times in 1876-77.
Many substantial and beautiful works from this period were not performed until years later, most notably the eighty-minute Stabat Mater ♫for chorus, vocal soloists, and orchestra (B. 71), composed 1876-77, premiered 1880 in Prague but without making any great impact.
The Stabat Mater was not really ‘discovered’ until its performance in London in 1883 – the first of innumerable presentations of this work during the composer’s lifetime in England where it was his most universally-admired composition.
Alas the first years of Dvořák’s family life proved tragic: by August 1876 Anna had born three children, but by September 1877 they were all dead. And while his reputation as a composer did grow somewhat by fits and starts, it remained limited mainly to Prague and entirely to the Czech lands, apart from the jury members in Vienna who evaluated his annual grant applications.
BREAKTHROUGH IN 1878
In December 1877 Brahms took the crucial step that opened the way to Dvořák’s international fame when he recommended to his own publisher, Fritz Simrock in Berlin, one of the works Dvořák had submitted with his grant application: a set of duets for soprano and alto with piano accompaniment to texts of Moravian folk songs (B. 60 and 62), composed at the request of a successful Moravian merchant in Prague, Jan Neff, whose children were Dvořák’s piano pupils.
Simrock issued them under the somewhat misleading but attractive title of Klänge aus Mähren(Sounds from Moravia, later known in English as Moravian Duets) ♫, and Germans were enchanted by their fresh, spontaneous-sounding music, relatively simple yet highly imaginative. Even more successful was a work Dvořák then wrote early in 1878 at Simrock’s behest: the first of his two sets of Slavonic Dances♫ for piano four-hands (B. 78), which he orchestrated later the same year (B. 83).
By October 1879 the orchestral version had been performed in Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, Nice, London, and New York, assuring Dvořák an international reputation that has never dwindled to this day. Now more and more of his works, mostly new but also some from earlier years, were published not only by Simrock but by other publishers in Germany then, starting in 1884, by Novello in London. And for the first time he received payment from publishers. After decades of living in tight financial straights he now saw a marked and permanent improvement in his financial situation.
Worth noting is that Dvořák’s first two publications outside Prague both marketed him as a Slavic composer and displayed the traits Germans most admired in music of the Slavs: something fresh, spontaneous-sounding, and a bit exotic, with lively dance rhythms. The same was true of many more works that helped to establish his reputation. This was felt to be Dvořák’s niche – the type of music for which he supposedly had the greatest talent and felt the greatest affinity. It is also important to note, however, that almost all these works were composed not on his own initiative but at the request of somebody else, that their Czech or Slavic titles were usually not his own, and that they almost never use actual folk melodies: in the case of the Moravian Duets Dvořák explicitly rejected Neff’s request that he arrange the melodies of Moravian folk songs – he took only their texts. Dvořák proved to be extremely skilled at writing this kind of music, but it is certainly not hisonly style nor even the style to which he felt the greatest natural inclination. All the while he also composed, in fact mainly composed, works in a cosmopolitan style often of great sophistication and profundity, comparable in some cases with the works of the greatest German masters.
Another fact generally overlooked is that Dvořák’s international stardom launched by the Moravian Duets and Slavonic Dances came simultaneously with his first really penetrating and long-lasting success on the domestic front, which he achieved in the genre of opera: premiered in February 1878, The Peasant a Rogue (B. 67, Šelma sedlák, translated by Burghauser as The Cunning Peasant) was given fourteen times by the end of that year and more than eighty times within the composer’s lifetime.
This work, too, made a contribution to his international reputation to some extent, with performances in Dresden, Hamburg, and Vienna during the 1880s.
To make the turnabout in Dvořák’s fortunes in 1878 complete, Anna gave birth to the first of the couple’s remaining six children, all of whom outlived the composer. This was Otilie, who in 1898 would marry Dvořák’s composition pupil Josef Suk.
1878-86: GRAND PROJECTS OF A MAJOR PLAYER ON THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE
Over the course of the next few years after 1878, Dvořák’s biggest single project by far was the grand opera Dmitry ♫(B. 127), to a story that is a sequel to Boris Godunov.
Premiered in 1882, this work was given sixty-six performances during his lifetime. But he also composed numerous works on a more modest scale including many requested by well-known musicians outside the Czech lands, such as the Sixth Symphony in D major ♫ (B. 112) for Hans Richter, conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Gypsy Melodies ♫(or Gypsy Songs, B. 104, including as No. 4 the famous ”Songs My Mother Taught Me”) for the Viennese tenor Gustav Walter.
From April 1883 through the end of 1886 Dvořák devoted virtually all of his compositional efforts to satisfying various requests, which came mainly from abroad – from Simrock in Berlin, for example,for a second set of Slavonic Dances (B. 145, orchestral version B. 147) and the four songs In Folk Tone (B. 146) – but above all from England: mainly the eighty-two-minute cantata The Spectre’s Bride (B. 135), the Seventh Symphony in D minor (B. 141), and the two-and-a-half hour oratorio St. Ludmila (B. 144).
During the years 1884-86 he undertook five extended trips to England to conduct his works, spending a total of about a hundred days there during this period and reaping unprecedented ovations as one of the great composers of the time.
Some of Dvořák’s works composed from 1883 through 1885 including two of his greatest – the Piano Trio in F minor ♫ (B. 130) and above-mentioned Seventh Symphony – convey a mood of intense struggle and drama.
This has been ascribed in the literature to feelings of inner turmoil he allegedly experienced as he considered proposals from his supporters in Vienna that he resettle there and compose operas to German texts – either of which would supposedly have constituted a betrayal of his nation. Examination of the evidence shows that this inner turmoil was experienced by some of his Czech supporters, who feared their newfound national hero might thus abandon them as it were, but that Dvořák himself, far less fanatical, saw no “betrayal” in choice of language or place of residence and was influenced more by practical considerations. A letter written in October 1887 by Simrock to Brahms, not mentioned in any Dvořák biography, tells how during a recent visit by the Dvořáks to Berlin Anna had said her husband suffered from the quarrels over national issues in Prague and would indeed have liked to move to Vienna but for the problem of their “numerous children” (five of them by this time), perhaps referring to Vienna’s high cost of living. (Nine years later, in 1896, Brahms reportedly offered Dvořák financial support from his own personal resources if it would allow him to move to Vienna; we don’t know whether Dvořák considered accepting that offer.)
For at least several years now the Dvořáks had been paying frequent visits to the village of Vysoká, forty miles southwest of Prague, to visit Anna’s sister Josefina and her husband Count Václav Kounic at their chateau as well as another of the Čermák sisters, Klotilda, who also lived there with her husband. The composer was enchanted by the place – its peace and quiet and the beauty of the surrounding fields and forests – and in 1884 he bought a farmstead from the Count which he had transformed into a modest summer residence for his own family. Each year through the end of his life they spent much or most of their time there from May through September, and it was there that he composed part or all of numerous works.
1887-89: DVOŘÁK TAKES A LOOK BACK AT EARLIER WORKS; HIS OWN NEW PROJECTS, AND REQUESTS FROM FRIENDS AT HOME
In 1887 Dvořák quite abruptly ceased accepting commissions from abroad, and through the end of 1889 he composed mainly to satisfy his own inner urgings – e.g. the famous Piano Quintet ♫ (his second, B. 155, in A major as was also the first, B. 28 from 1872), the opera The Jacobin ♫(B. 159), and the Eighth Symphony (B. 163) – or at the request of personal friends as in the case of the Mass in D ♫ with organ accompaniment for the architect, builder, and philanthropist Josef Hlávka and his wife Zdenka (B. 153, later orchestral version B. 175).
During this same period he took a nostalgic look back at the many works from his early adulthood that lay unpublished and were performed only rarely if at all, several of which he now resuscitated in revised form and added to the canon of his works, most notably his magnificent Fifth Symphony ♫ from 1875 (B. 54).
1890-91: LOOKING ABROAD ONCE MORE, AND TEACHING
In 1890, however, Dvořák again turned major attention to admirers abroad, traveling to his most distant destination yet when he conducted orchestral works of his in Moscow and St. Petersburg at the invitation of Tchaikovsky, and composing for England the largest of all his liturgical works, the ninety-seven-minute Requiem for chorus, vocal soloists and orchestra (B. 165).
Dvořák in his graduation gown upon receipt of his honorary doctorate in Cambridge, 1891.
He also journeyed to England in April 1890 to conduct his Eighth Symphony , then twice in 1891: in June to receive an honorary doctorate at Cambridge and in October to conduct the Requiem in Birmingham in its world premiere.
Meanwhile a major change in Dvořák’s daily routine came when, for the first time since leaving his post as church organist in 1877, he took a regular position as an employee: effective January 1891 he became a teacher of composition, orchestration, and musical forms at the conservatory in Prague. He would continue in regular employment as a teacher through the end of his life. In Prague he trained such outstanding members of the upcoming generation of composers as Josef Suk, Oskar Nedbal, and Vítězslav Novák.
1892-95: THE AMERICAN ADVENTURE
Already in June 1891, however, a telegram arrived from Jeannette Thurber, President of the National Conservatory of Music of America, offering Dvořák a post as composition teacher and (nominal) director of that school in New York. Despite the fantastic offer of $15,000 per school year as salary (more than thirty times his pay at the conservatory in Prague!) he vacillated until early 1892 when – prodded apparently by his wife Anna who had a greater sense for material matters and the financial needs of their large family – he finally signed the contract. As though the impending adventure across the ocean was not exciting enough, from January through May 1892 Dvořák embarked on another unprecedented project: playing piano in more than forty concerts of his own chamber works in a ”farewell” tour of Czech towns in Bohemia and Moravia, with Ferdinand Lachner at the violin and Hanuš Wihan as cellist, always featuring his new trio Dumky (B. 166) and one or the other of his earlier trios for this combination of instruments.
Dvořák and family on the steps of their residence on East 17th St New York, 1893.
Surprisingly, neither this concert tour nor Dvořák’s regular teaching duties from January 1891 onward through many succeeding school years in Prague and New York had much effect on his fecundity as a composer: he continued turning out one major work after another including, especially in America, some of his best-known compositions such as the Ninth Symphony (B. 179, subtitled by Dvořák himself “From the New World”), the String Quartet in F and String Quintet in E flat (B. 180 and 181, both nicknamed by others, appropriately enough, “American”), the Biblical Songs (B. 185), and the Cello Concerto in B minor (B. 191) – perhaps the greatest concerto for cello ever composed by anyone.
Dvořák spent a total of about twenty-four months in America: three school years in New York from September 1892 through April 1895 plus one long summer vacation period in 1893 in the Czech village of Spillville, Iowa – birthplace of his constant companion throughout the American sojourn, the violinist Josef Kovařík (1870-1951) whom he had met in Prague where he was studying at the conservatory. According to Kovařík’s (perhaps slightly biased) testimony, Dvořák was so enamored of Spillville that he considered settling there permanently, dissuaded only by his wife’s objections (for family reasons) plus concern that his Czech compatriots would again regard him as having betrayed his nation. During the summer of 1893 Dvořák also visited Omaha, the twin cities in Minnesota, Chicago where he conducted a concert of his works at the World’s Columbian Exposition, and on his way back to New York also Niagara Falls.
Dvořák was fascinated by African-American spirituals, which he encountered in New York both in written form and as sung by the numerous Black students and faculty members at the conservatory (most notably Harry Burleigh). Also intriguing to him was Native American culture mainly as represented in Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha (which he had already known in Czech translation), and apparently to some extent the music of Native Americans as well, which he heard in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in New York (timing unknown) and in Spillville. He himself pointed out the influence on some of his works composed in America of spirituals and of Hiawatha, as well as, according to three somewhat dubious articles in the New York Herald of 14-16 December 1893, Native American music.
He also stressed, however, that he never actually quoted American melodies in these works, but rather wrote his own themes imbued with their spirit. Reportedly he came very close to composing an opera based on Hiawatha, thwarted only by the lack of a suitable libretto.
In America, too, Dvořák’s composition pupils had an impact on the further development of music, in this case most remarkably via their pupils: his student Will Marion Cook became the teacher of Duke Ellington, Harry Rowe Shelley taught Charles Ives, and Rubin Goldmark taught both Aaron Copland and George Gershwin. More generally, Dvořák’s public declarations of appreciation for African American music may have given broad encouragement to the development of jazz.
Though enthusiastic about American music and the American way of life in general, Dvořák was intensely homesick during his last school year there, and his wife Anna even more so. It is unclear to what extent this was a matter of missing their children: during the first school year in New York they had had two of their children with them, then from June 1893 through May 1894 all six, then during the last school year (for reasons unknown) only one. Thurber wanted Dvořák to continue, and indeed he had signed a contract to teach in New York through the 1895-96 school year. However, in consequence of the financial ”Panic of 1893” in America Thurber was in arrears in paying his salary. While home in Bohemia during the summer of 1895 he and Anna decided not to return to America.
1896-1904: BACK IN BOHEMIA
Dvořák resumed his teaching duties at the conservatory in Prague, where in 1901 he was named artistic director. After completing his last two string quartets late in 1895 he abandoned forever the field of “absolute music” (instrumental music with no explicit extra-musical ”program”) which had figured so conspicuously in his output to date, now composing five symphonic poems and then focusing almost exclusively on opera. Already in 1894 he had drastically revised Dmitry. In 1897 he did the same for The Jacobin, then in 1899-1902 he composed three new works in this genre: The Devil and Kate (B. 201), Rusalka (meaning The Water Nymph, B. 203, one of his very greatest works), and finally Armida (B. 206) which became his last completed composition.
In 1901 came the highest of all the many official honors bestowed on Dvořák during his lifetime, when Emperor Franz Joseph appointed this graduate of the humble school in Nelahozeves, intended for members of the lower class who would never amount to anything, as a lifelong member of the Austrian House of Lords. Though he attended only one session, this honor bears eloquent testimony to the long path he had travelled.
AGORAPHOBIA, RELATIVE INACTIVITY IN FINAL YEARS
Many of those who knew Dvořák well recalled that during the last decades of his life he suffered from certain symptoms of neurosis; his close friend Jindřich Kàan (1852-1926) identified the disorder, accurately enough it seems, as agoraphobia – the experience of unreasonable anxiety in situations perceived as dangerous or uncomfortable, often in association with crowds. This condition may have first arisen in 1885-86 when he was composing St. Ludmila on commission for the English: he felt himself to be under almost unbearable pressure and, as he himself recalled, was nearly driven to insanity. In the last few years before his death in 1904, four months short of his sixty-third birthday, we observe a rather drastic and unexplained slowdown in all his activities. After Rusalka, completed in November 1900, his only work composed during the more than three years he had remaining was Armida.
He virtually ceased travelling. After conducting the world premiere of the Cello Concerto during his ninth and last visit to London in 1896 he never left continental Europe. After attending a concert in Berlin in 1899 he never left the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After appearances as conductor in Prague in the spring of 1900 he never again took up the baton in public. And after visits to Vienna in 1901, then possibly in May 1902, he never left Bohemia. Even his known correspondence becomes ever more sparse during his last few years. However his close friend Leoš Janáček, who saw him during the final months of his life, recalled that he was searching for a new opera libretto and predicted that had he lived he would have embarked on a new style.
AN IMMORTAL LEGACY OF STRONG CONVICTION AND AFFIRMATION OF LIFE
Dvořák suffered plenty during his life, mainly during his difficult first thirty-six years of poverty and professional frustration capped by the deaths of his first three children, and his psyche had its share of foibles. In his music we find no lack of passages that are emotionally complex and sometimes deeply painful. Yet at root he appears to have been a man of strong mental disposition and great optimism, with a positive attitude toward life, strengthened by his firm religious conviction – as a Roman Catholic or perhaps, as his son Otakar asserted, a man of a broader religious outlook almost akin to pantheism; certainly he can be said to have virtually worshipped the beauty of nature. And one of his special talents was to write music that ‘snatches victory from the jaws of defeat’ – that leaves one with the feeling that, whatever pain and tragedy one might experience, in the last analysis the world is a wonderful place.
Dvořák’s death on 1 May 1904 – of somewhat unclear causes, though apparently from a stroke due to complications of influenza and a kidney ailment – came as a shock to the musical world. But his rich legacy lived on and still lives today, provoking ever-new interpretations and insights.
EPILOGUE: DVOŘÁK’S IMAGE THEN AND NOW
Despite the extreme popularity of many of Dvořák’s works there are many more – including some perhaps equally as fine and others that, while imperfect, are fascinating – that have lain largely or totally neglected. In particular, he is often strangely overlooked, especially in America, as a composer of vocal music, which actually occupies about half his output in terms of performing time and which played a crucial role in the advancement of his career at several stages. And in the instrumental genres he is viewed too exclusively as a composer of “absolute music,” as opposed to “program music,” which makes explicit reference to something outside the music itself. Those who know his vocal music and his symphonic poems contend persuasively that their neglect cannot be ascribed to any lack of quality. The explanations are diverse; here let us mention only one. His compatriot Bedřich Smetana, seventeen years his senior, was and still is rightly considered the first great Czech composer of operas and instrumental program music.
By comparison, Smetana’s output during his mature years left “absolute” music almost untouched. Dvořák filled the gap with a large quantity of superb absolute music, mainly symphonic and chamber works. Always ready to plug composers into convenient pigeon holes, commentators identified absolute music as Dvořák’s specialty, overlooking such facts as that he actually composed more operas than Smetana, and the popularity of those operas in performing repertoire has never lagged far behind that of the older master. (Indeed, the boom in productions of Rusalka worldwide over the past few decades has probably now placed Dvořák ahead of Smetana.)
Another major misconception is that Dvořák’s significance lies mainly in his status as a representative of his nation. We must remember that he lived during a period of intense nationalism among the Czechs, struggling to assert the distinctive character and worth of their culture after centuries of domination by the culture of Germans. Naturally enough, when an artist like Dvořák who made no secret of his Czech ethnicity created something beautiful, Czech reviewers were eager to see it as being quintessentially Czech, or more broadly Slavic, as opposed to German or cosmopolitan. For different reasons a similar view of Dvořák’s music was taken by the Germans themselves, who tended to see their own music as “universal” – along with music from France and Italy whose role in the formation of German music could not be denied – and everything else as “national.” In Dvořák’s case the supposedly inherent ”Czechness” or ”Slavicness” of his music was conspicuously blurred by the important works of his American period, which he himself plausibly claimed were influenced by music indigenous to the United States.
Yet the brand of a Czech or Slavic “national” as opposed to a “universal” composer stuck. In reality Dvořák’s music was influenced almost from the beginning by, and indeed mainly by, works of the great French, Italian, and especially German masters. His approach was almost always cosmopolitan, and his music deserves to be measured against the standards of all Western culture, not only or even primarily those of his nation.
An unfortunate corollary to the ”nationalist” misconception was the chauvinistic attitude of many Germans – who in turn influenced many in Britain and America – about what Slavic music was like. And here the story of Dvořák’s life comes into play: the chauvinistic attitude was reinforced by knowledge that he came from and generally felt most comfortable in rural environments, among ordinary people – he was the perfect “rustic,” which is to say one who conformed to the Germanic image of the Slav: one possessed of great musicality, but on a somewhat primitive level, with virtues consisting mainly in freshness, spontaneity, and a whiff of the exotic. Some of his most popular works would seem – if one doesn’t listen very closely – to support his conventional image as a happy-go-lucky rustic with an unfailingly sunny disposition. But the outline of his life’s story presented above shows clearly enough the error of this view, and listening to any of his numerous profound works of great emotional depth and complexity gives the lie to the notion that his music is shallow or unsophisticated.
Endlessly quoted – without the appropriate qualifications – is Dvořák’s characterization of himself in one letter as a “simple Czech musician.” This was the reaction of an appealingly unpretentious composer to an expression of exaggerated praise on the boundary of deification. He was indeed simple in some respects as a person – a ”man of the folk,” perhaps a bit of a “country bumpkin,” naïve in that when dealing with people he was always straightforward, sincere (his cousin Anna Dušková who lived in the same apartment or across the hall from him for almost his whole adult life said she thought he would suffer physically if he had to tell a lie), and he naïvely expected the same from others. However Janáček, for one, vehemently denied the often-heard opinion that Dvořák lacked intelligence. Nor, as mentioned above in our biographical outline, was his psyche free of mysterious “dark places.” But above all, the notion that Dvořák was simple in his music is – “simply” not true.
Lest we ourselves be accused of prejudices concerning the inclinations of certain nationalities, be it said that in recent decades German musicologists have taken a leading role in portraying Dvořák as the complex personality and sophisticated composer that he really was. And even more recently members of the Dvořák American Heritage Association, Michael Beckerman and Maurice Peress, have made major contributions toward the understanding of Dvořák in the full richness of his psyche and his cultural bequest. Old habits of thinking die hard, but with Dvořák we see a continuing trend toward ever-greater appreciation of his genius.
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, is also known by its subtitle, From the New World, or as the New World Symphony. Dvořák wrote it between January and May 1893, while he was in New York. At the time of its first performance, he claimed that he used elements from American music such as spirituals and Native American music in this work, but he later denied this. Neil Armstrong took a recording of the New World Symphony to the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, and in 2009 it was voted the favourite symphony in a poll run by ABC Classic FM in Australia.
Adolf Čech premiered more of Dvořák’s symphonies than anyone else. He conducted the first performances of Nos. 2, 5 and 6; the composer premiered Nos. 7 and 8; Bedřich Smetana led Nos. 3 and 4; Anton Seidl conducted No. 9; and Milan Sachs premiered No. 1.
Dvořák Symphony No 9 in E minor (From the New World) for piano 1st mov sheet music
Dvořák – Symphony No 9 in E minor (From the New World) for piano – 2nd movement (Largo) sheet music