Dvořák’s New World Symphony is one of the most popular pieces of orchestral music ever written. Here the idea of Echoes of Nations, the Chicago Symphony’s 2008-2009 season theme, becomes very complex; for Dvořák’s fellow countrymen, this work is perhaps the greatest Czech symphony and expresses the composer’s longing for his homeland. For Americans, this is the first great symphony about America. For African-Americans, this is the first great orchestral work to use themes inspired by their songs and spirituals. For Native Americans, it is the first, and so far the only, great work inspired by Native American music. The very same tunes in this symphony have been claimed as African-American, Native American and Czech.
This presentation explores the shifting meanings of music, how this symphony grew out of Dvořák’s abandoned opera based on Longfellow’s Hiawatha epic, and how Longfellow’s inspiration itself mixes North American and European stories and ideas. In this symphony, the echoes of many different nations mix with one another to produce a rainbow of music, a vision of many colors and identities.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Mark Elder, conductor
Gerard McBurney, creative director and narrator
Filmed at Orchestra Hall in June, 2009.