New Worlds of Dvorak: Searching in America for the Composers Inner Life

Overview

A forceful reinterpretation of the composer's personality and work.
Focusing on Dvořák's eventful stay in the United States from 1892 to 1895, this book explores the world behind the public legend, offering fresh insights into the composer's music. We see the traditional image—that of a simple Czech fellow with a flair for composing symphonic and chamber music—give way to one of a complex figure writing works filled with hidden drama and secret programs. In his cogent ...

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Overview

A forceful reinterpretation of the composer's personality and work.
Focusing on Dvořák's eventful stay in the United States from 1892 to 1895, this book explores the world behind the public legend, offering fresh insights into the composer's music. We see the traditional image—that of a simple Czech fellow with a flair for composing symphonic and chamber music—give way to one of a complex figure writing works filled with hidden drama and secret programs. In his cogent examination of Dvořák's state of mind, Michael B. Beckerman, a noted scholar of Czech music, concludes that the composer suffered from a debilitating and previously unexplored anxiety disorder during his American sojourn. Using Dvořák as a model, he argues convincingly that the biographical images we carry of composers condition the way we approach their music.New Worlds of Dvořák also presents us with a wealth of new information about the origins of the composer's "New World" Symphony, its strong relationship (in the face of Dvořák's denials) to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem The Song of Hiawatha, the Hiawatha opera that the composer envisioned but did not write, and the "Negro themes" that Dvořák claimed as a strong influence on his American works. Along the way we are introduced to a cast of characters that could easily spring from the pages of a novel. First there is Jeannette Thurber, a wealthy New Yorker who founded a music conservatory and persuaded Dvořák to direct it. We meet Henry T. Burleigh, a black composer of art music, who sang African American spirituals to Dvořák. Among the critics of the day who wrote endlessly about the Czech composer and his "American" symphony, we meet James Huneker, who derided Dvořák's claim that his music was American, even though Huneker himself played a major role in acquainting Dvořák with African American songs. We learn that Huneker was not quite the villain he has been made out to be in the Dvořák saga. We also meet the newspaperman James Creelman, who was nurtured under Pulitzer and Hearst and was an early proponent of "yellow journalism," in which the journalist plays an active role in the story being reported. Finally, we meet Henry Krehbiel, who became a friend of Dvořák's and who saw the music critic as mediator between the musician and the public, arousing interest and paving the way to popular comprehension of concert music. In this forceful reinterpretation of the composer's personality and work, readers will gain a rich new view of Dvořák that will deepen their understanding of his works, especially the "New World" Symphony and the other compositions dating from his American years.
"After having done extensive research on Dvořák and writing my novel Dvořák in Love, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the composer. Now Michael Beckerman's brilliant New Worlds of Dvořák shows me the size and number of gaps in my knowledge. . . . The CD included with the volume . . . makes it easy even for readers with not much musical education to follow Beckerman's arguments and thus experience the pleasant shock of discovering the deepest and subtlest aspects of Dvořák's great and beloved works." —Josef Škvorecký "Ingeniously conceived, thoroughly and skeptically researched, entertainingly written, and graced by a wealth of lovely audible examples, this book somehow succeeds in being both an important work of revisionist scholarship that specialists in the field will need to consider carefully and a delightful meditation on music loved by many that deserves—and will attract—a wide general readership." —Richard Taruskin, Class of 1955 Professor of Music, University of California, Berkeley

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Die-hard Dvorak fans will adore this arcane but vividly written musicological study of the composer's sojourn in America. Dvorak was director of the National Conservatory in New York from 1892-95, and during this time he wrote his famous "New World" Symphony as well as a number of lesser works. Beckerman, a New York University music professor, explores the literary, political and personal influences that helped shape this creative outpouring. His detailed analysis ascribes much of the "New World" to a programmatic setting of Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha, a precursor to a planned opera that never materialized. Beckerman also provides a fascinating account of the ideology of musical nationalism in which Dvorak was steeped. Dvorak, he says, aspired to be the "Slavic Wagner" and was an exponent of a self-consciously "Czech" musical style. In America, egged on by journalist-provocateurs and influenced by black musicians at the National Conservatory, Dvorak became a champion of an "American" national music to be based on African American spirituals and Indian folk tunes. Although an agnostic on the subject of musical nationalism (he feels that Dvorak's music was traditional German-style classical music with Czech and American gestures) Beckerman is a sympathetic and insightful guide to the controversies of an era when music was taken very seriously indeed. His contention that Dvorak suffered from agoraphobia and an accompanying panic disorder brought on in part by tremendous stress, and that the composer drank as self-medication, is interesting but not as compelling as the rest of this committed investigation. An accompanying CD, keyed to the text, illustrates Beckerman's arguments through the music itself. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393047066
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/2003
  • Edition description: CD-ROM included
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael B. Beckerman is professor of music at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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