Monday, November 19, 2018
Czech out the New World!
Antonin Dvorak was born in the Czech region of Europe in 1841. His life path brought the gifted musician through a trailblazing role as a composer of bold, new symphonic music at the Prague Conservatory,
In 1892, Antonin chose, like many other adventurous Europeans of that age, to travel to the land of wide open spaces and wide open opportunity—America.
Although his residence here was for only for a few years, that was enough time for the inspired Czech to catch hold of the American Dream; by skillful composition, he enunciated that dream in one of the most American-spirited pieces of music ever performed.
The symphony he composed here—his 9th—became known as the “New World.”
This transplanted Czech’s musical gifting had propelled him to a podium of international renown, so the National Conservatory of Music of America recruited Dvorak as their Director. When Antonin left Europe in 1892, he was bound for the big apple— New York City, USA.
During that New World phase of his life’s journey, Antonin extended his westward adventure far beyond our Atlantic coast, into the very heartland of the frontier experience. In an Iowa community of transplanted Czechs, Antonin dwelt comfortably for a season with his countrymen.
That trip from New York out to our heartland and back must certainly have been a life-changing experience for the alert musician; the orchestral piece he dreamed up— and then committed to musical score in New York in 1893— generates vivid images in my imagination. Whenever I listen to the New World Symphony, my mind fills up with excitement about the urgency and resourcefulness of our vast continent-wide expansion, which began in the farthest regions of an Old World and culminated in a New.
A recent New York Philharmonic performance of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, under the masterful hand of Alan Gilbert, presents a tender, and yet impetuous, rendering of the piece. An energetic portrayal of what Antonin had in mind when he composed his New World masterpiece.
Hearing this symphony summons adventures of travel in my imagination.
Embarking on a great adventure: this, it seems to me, is the theme of Dvorak’s musical odyssey. In the early passages, I catch glimpses of a virtuoso voyage across the rolling Atlantic Ocean. . .
with the wind in my face and a sensation of sailing steadily toward some new venue of opportunities and bright horizons.
The bouncy flutes and piccolos set this course for my imagining.
Sailing onward through Dvorak’s audible vision, I hear a finely-honed orchestra moving melodically westward, inducing a sense of fair wind favorable terrain . . . past the Statue of Liberty, then disembarking in a bustling 19th-century New York port, negotiating the busy streets, through a dynamo of enterprising business and yankee industry, then rolling farther along, out of the city and into the countryside . . . moments of repose along the way . . . through coastal commerce past planted fields o’er dusty roads, riding into green Appalachian hills,
over blue mountain ridges, catching a locomotive in Cincinnati, steaming past the fruited plains and barreling along across vast, wind-swept prairies:
The New World!
Along with the rhythmic locomotive journey through verdant landscapes, Dvorak’s bold, loud use of the trombones and trumpets provokes urgency, tension, danger at points along the way—then periodic resolvings through the ministry of exquisitely tender woodwinds—mellow oboes,
resonant clarinets—and the declarative legato of French horns, backed up, sometimes boisterously, sometimes gently, with those ever-present violins and violas.
And low thumping bassos that stand as tall and deep as elms in the great American landscape.
These flights of fancy then deliver us into thankful moments of contemplation, yeah, even reverence for a Providential presence, accompanied by fluted tremelos, and blown deeper into the traveler’s soul by the vibrant contemplation of oboes, with resonant clarinets and mellowing horns. Excitement decrescendoes past repose, into full contemplation, with the ultimate reward: wonder.
And by ’n by, sudden stirrings of urgency—yea, even danger and warning—from the bells of the trumpets and trombones, because that is the real world.
Always back to the real world. That’s the American way.
The real world of conclusion. A good thing can’t go on forever; it has to end at some point.
Oh, what a strong, bold brassy conclusion from our trombones and trumpets!
A great piece of Music!
But maybe you’d have to be there to catch my vision of it.
Or, maybe not. Next best thing: