From Australia, From the New World

I often link ABC Online (Australia) in my posts. I enjoy their programming, which is driven by a staff of radio professionals who are clearly serious about serious music, but also bring the disarming Australian qualities of friendliness, familiarity, and a definite lack of snobbery to their work.

If any of you readers are looking for a deeper understanding of classical music, I’d recommend Graham Abbott’s Keys to Music, which airs weekly in Australia Saturday mornings, but which is available for weeks afterward online. Last week he analyzed Dvorak’s much loved ninth Symphony, “From the New World.” It’s worth a listen. Abbott is clearly a gifted teacher, and if you were ever at a loss as to what to listen for in classical music, I’d recommend his program highly.

My first exposure to the piece was stumbling across a Sesame Street clip when I was young. They played the second movement while the camera was very close to what seemed like an orange planet. Slowly, the shot pulls back and you can imagine my disappointment to see an orange, not a planet in space. When my school newspaper polled favorite songs in 1969, my choice was the “Largo” from Dvorak’s 9th. “Let It Be” beat it out. Easily.

It is a myth that Dvorak used an actual spiritual. He didn’t. One of his students penned the text, “Goin’ Home” and applied it to the music. Dvorak listened to black and native American music, but his musical themes were all his own, influenced in this work by his Czech heritage and the music he heard in his “new world.” He suggested American composers should listen to the native and folk music around them, there to find inspiration for an authentically American music. Great composers like Ellington, Bernstein, Gershwin, and Adams have achieved this. I think future American sacred music can develop in this way as well.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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