“Sunday is the 125th anniversary of the premiere of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (‘From the New World’) at Carnegie Hall,” writes Douglas Shadle in Friday’s (12/14) New York Times. “Countless history books and program notes would have us believe that … the ‘New World’ Symphony was an attempt to show naïve American composers how to build a distinctive style using what Dvořák called ‘Negro melodies.’ … A great story. But it’s not true. American composers were wrestling with national identity long before Dvořák’s arrival…. Henry Schoenefeld, based in Chicago, explained in the program note to his 1890 ‘Suite Characteristique’ for string orchestra that an ‘American school will be based upon the Negro melodies of the South.’ … The conductor Franz Xavier Arens, based in Milwaukee … in 1892 … toured Central Europe, with Schoenefeld’s suite…. The suite’s evocation of black American musical idioms delighted audiences…. When Dvořák finally arrived [in the U.S.], the idea of mixing black vernacular idioms with conventional classical idioms had fascinated musicians across Europe and the United States for nearly two years…. Dvořák’s original purpose [was] to acknowledge contributions black musicians had already been making to the American cultural landscape.”

Posted December 18, 2018