We’d Be Nothin’ Without You, Dvorak

We’re about to launch episode 6 of Backstage Podcast, but as you can imagine, we had to make some cuts to the script. That always hurts a little bit.

Fortunately for us, we have a blog to feature our edited material. It’s the kind of stuff that we think is really cool, but it didn’t help the scripted narrative very much–besides, you probably don’t have time to listen to ten hour long shows.

In short, Dvorak had a huge influence on American composers and music. While we talk about some of that in episode 6, here are a few more examples of composers in Dvorak’s “lineage,” as well as some film music that borrowed from Dvorak not-so-discreetly.


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Harry Burleigh

Many know Dvorak as a champion of American folk music. He went to great lengths–and was paid to great lengths by Mrs. Jeannette Thurber–to encourage American composers to develop their own national musical style and sound, and he believed that if composers took inspiration from Native American music and  African-American spirituals, a unique style of music could be achieved.
He had such an influence on the African-American composing community that one obituary read, “If it were possible, the Afro-American musicians alone could flood his grave with tears.”

Here are two American composers that wouldn’t be the same without the great Czech’s influence.

  • Harry T. Burleigh: Dvorak met Burleigh while the composer was directing the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Burleigh, the legend tells, introduced Dvorak to the African-American spiritual. He was quoted as saying, “I sang our Negro songs for him very often, and before he wrote his own themes, he filled himself with the spirit of the old Spirituals.” Burleigh, with the encouragement of Dvorak, arranged native African American spirituals into a score that could be performed in concerts. This act alone made him invaluable to the history of African American classical composers in the US. He went on to have a successful compositional career in other mediums as well, though, and the lasting influence of Burleigh can be directly attributed to Dvorak.
  • Charles Ives: Charles Ives was a relatively unknown composer during his lifetime. Most of the music he wrote contained themes and paraphrases from American folk music, especially Stephen Foster. His music was discovered and performed widely after his death. His Symphony No. 1 contains many paraphrases and themes from Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The second movement is fashioned directly after the New World Symphony’s Largo. Ives used the same instrument for the solo, the cor anglais, and varied the melody and rhythm slightly to make it his own.
  • George Gershwin and Aaron Copland: No, Dvorak didn’t directly teach either of these famous
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    Rubin Goldmark

    composers. But he did teach their instructor, Rubin Goldmark. You could say that without the influence of their “musical grandfather,” Copland and Gershwin would have never arrived at their success!

 

 

 

 

As we mentioned before, Dvorak even influenced American film music; listen to John Williams’ Duel of the Fates and its soft string melodies. Compare it to the beginning of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony Movement No. 3.” Take a guess which one came first!


 

Also, give a quick listen to Bernard Herrman’s score to The Day the Earth Stood Still:

 

Parts of it bear a rather striking resemblance to the opening of Dvorak’s second movement in the New World Symphony.

Happy listening! We hope you enjoy Episode 6, “Czech Please: Dvorak in America.”


Also published on Medium.

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