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New Worlds of Dvorak: Searching in America for the Composer's Inner Life

New Worlds of Dvorak: Searching in America for the Composer's Inner Life

Michael B. Beckerman

ISBN: 978-0-393-04706-6

*Norton agency titles

128 pages

Select type: Hardcover

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Focusing on Dvor?k'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 Dvor?k'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 Dvor?k as a model, he argues convincingly that the biographical images we carry of composers condition the way we approach their music.

New Worlds of Dvor?k 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 Dvor?k'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 Dvor?k 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 Dvor?k to direct it. We meet Henry T. Burleigh, a black composer of art music, who sang African American spirituals to Dvor?k. Among the critics of the day who wrote endlessly about the Czech composer and his "American" symphony, we meet James Huneker, who derided Dvor?k's claim that his music was American, even though Huneker himself played a major role in acquainting Dvor?k with African American songs. We learn that Huneker was not quite the villain he has been made out to be in the Dvor?k 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 Dvor?k'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 Dvor?k 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 Dvor?k and writing my novel Dvor?k in Love, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the composer. Now Michael Beckerman's brilliant New Worlds of Dvor?k 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 Dvor?k's great and beloved works."
—Josef ?kvoreck?

"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