Antonin Dvorak in America

Dvořák’s main goal in America was to discover “American Music”(Photo: Unknown)
Dvořák’s main goal in America was to discover “American Music”(Photo: Unknown)

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak had a three-year stay in the U.S. when he became the music director of the newly formed National Conservatory of Music in New York in 1892.  While there, in the winter and spring of 1893, he wrote what has become his most popular work, his Symphony No. 9 in e minor, titled “From the New World.”

Dvorak’s creative imagination was certainly spurred on by his visit here, but it was while he was “on vacation” in the summer of 1893 that he composed his best-loved chamber work, music on a more intimate scale: the String Quartet No.12, the “American Quartet.”

Dvorak journeyed all the way to the small town of Spillville, Iowa to visit with members of the Czech community who had settled there. Several of his cousins had emigrated there earlier.

The cheerful and mellow feeling of much of that Quartet must owe a lot to Dvorak’s feelings of comfort and familiarity after reuniting with family members in a new land. The music also reflects something quintessential about America: Except for the Native Americans who already lived here, we are all from someplace else if we look back far enough in our families’ history.

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