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Dvoraks 9th Symphony From The New World

Formal Structure and Content (adapted from http://www.antonin-dvorak.cz/en/symphony9)


While, in terms of the choice of thematic material and the overall atmosphere of the work, Dvorak really was entering a
new world, in its structural framework the symphony largely adheres to classical schemes derived from the deeply
entrenched traditions of European music.
The first movement, Allegro Molto:
The first movement (Allegro molto) is written in sonata form and begins with an introduction in slow tempo (Adagio).
Apart from the fact that the introduction anticipates the thematic material of the first movement, specifically its main
subject, it also establishes an idea right at the start which might be described as a kind of leitmotif of Dvoraks American
period:

Its characteristic melodic outline later appears once again in the theme of the third movement of String Quintet in E flat
major and in the composers piano Humoresque No. 1. According to Dvoraks instructions, the entire introduction should
be drawn out, where possible, which is not always observed in practice. The exposition of the first movement is
structured around three supporting thematic ideas. The main theme is distinguished for the contrast between its
announcing and responsive phrases:

The fanfare-like announcing phrase is a defining factor for the symphony as it progresses, later appearing at key points in all
the following movements. The second subject of the first movement asserts the American-Czech character of the
symphony: in its basic minor key (with a narrow melodic range, lowered seventh and monotone accompaniment), there
truly is something Indian about it:

In a subsequent development of the theme, however, its character is completely transformed (change in key temperament,
broader melodic range, parallel thirds) and it suddenly sounds almost like a Czech polka:

Craig Klonowski
Monday, November 17, 2014

The introduction of the closing theme is rhythmically equivalent to the main theme, but otherwise it is of a quite different,
lyrical character. It is often highlighted for its close similarity with the melody of the spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
Dvorak also treats this theme in the symphonys subsequent movements:

The development section principally addresses the main theme and the announcing phrase of the final theme. Its dramatic
character is echoed in the harmonic progression A major A minor F major F sharp minor E flat minor E minor
F minor. The recapitulation is almost an exact repetition of the exposition, the only difference being that the secondary and
closing themes are transposed up a semitone. The impressive coda involving full timpani reaches its climax with the main
subject rising up in the brass above the orchestral tutti.
Movement II, Largo:
The second movement (Largo) begins with a remarkable harmonic succession of chords in the wind instruments (E major
B flat major (sixth chord) E major D flat major B double-flat major G flat minor D flat major). The genesis of
the Largos famous introductory bars was by no means straightforward. A whole series of variants have survived in
Dvoraks sketchbooks which preceded the definitive sequence. In one of them the harmonic progression begins in C major
and returns to the same key. In the final version, however, the opening chord of E major emphasises continuity with the
close of the previous movement, which ends in E minor. According to an interpretation by Michael Beckerman, the
introductory chords represent a kind of musical rendition of the formula Once upon a time.... Antonin Sychra points out
the connection between this chordal progression and similarly conceived passages in other works by Dvorak: the catharsis
in the symphonic poem The Wild Dove, the chords accompanying the Water Sprites aria in Rusalka when he cries Oh
poor, pale Rusalka, sent by a spell into the dazzling world! Alas!, and the harmonic sequences at several points in Biblical
Songs (e.g. in song No. 3 with the words Attend and hear me; For I lament in my suffering and grief ). The Largos main
theme is a broad, sublimely simple melody delivered by the cor anglais, set against a backdrop of sordini strings:

The theme was originally prescribed for the clarinet, but the composer later altered the instrumentation, since the sound of
the cor anglais was said to have reminded him of the quality of the voice of Harry T. Burleigh, whose performances gave
Dvorak the opportunity to hear Negro spirituals (see above). In addition, the theme itself was somewhat different, more
European than the final version. In contrast to the sketches, the score incorporates this minor but, in overall effect,
important change, intensifying the pentatonic character of the melody. The middle section of the movement brings a
passage in C sharp minor, whose nostalgic mood might suggest an image of the vast and desolate American prairies (which,
naturally, Dvorak could not have known at the time of writing), the stylisation of an Indian lament, and also a reflection of
homesickness:

The image of inconsolability is further reinforced when the musical current leads into a kind of funeral march above
regular pizzicato steps in the basses:

Craig Klonowski
Monday, November 17, 2014

There then follows a quasi-scherzo segment in C sharp major, whose dynamic climax incorporates several thematic ideas:
the Largo theme, the main theme of the first movement, and the closing theme of the first movement. The movement
concludes with the soft return of the main theme, with the sequence of introductory chords making their reappearance at
the very end.
The third movement, Molto Vivace:
The third movement (Molto vivace) is written in A-B-A form. In Dvoraks words, this part of the symphony is associated
with the feast where the Indians dance, which he had seen described in Longfellows Hiawatha. The entire character of
part A and its increasing sense of urgency as the piece progresses seem truly to echo the passage of the poem which
depicts the wild dance of the magician Pau-Puk-Keewis from the chapter Hiawathas Wedding Feast:
To the sound of flutes and singing,
To the sound of drums and voices,
Rose the handsome Pau-Puk-Keewis,
And began his mystic dances.
First he danced a solemn measure,
Very slow in step and gesture,
In and out among the pine-trees,
Through the shadows and the sunshine,
Treading softly like a panther.
Then more swiftly and still swifter,
Whirling, spinning round in circles,
Leaping o'er the guests assembled,
Eddying round and round the wigwam,

Till the leaves went whirling with him,


Till the dust and wind together
Swept in eddies round about him.
Then along the sandy margin
Of the lake, the Big-Sea-Water,
On he sped with frenzied gestures,
Stamped upon the sand, and tossed it
Wildly in the air around him;
Till the wind became a whirlwind,
Till the sand was blown and sifted
Like great snowdrifts o'er the landscape,
Heaping all the shores with Sand Dunes,
Sand Hills of the Nagow Wudjoo!

The stirring rhythms in part A are interrupted only in its middle section which, in its idyllic atmosphere, is in such contrast
that one might refer to it as a little trio of sorts:

The actual trio, part B, is also far removed from the wild rhythms of the preceding part. And this is not all: the American
feel to the music suddenly seems to fade away. Otakar Sourek even speaks of a dance melody akin to a Czech folk piece
which, in its middle section, is buoyed up with dainty hops and delicate trills, as if Dvoraks beloved pigeons at Vysoka set
about their own concert of cooing and murmuring:

After a repetition of part A comes the coda which, in its solemn expression, defies the overall tone of the movement and
thus represents a certain conceptual transition towards the final movement. The dynamic culmination of the coda then
suddenly gives voice to yet another reminiscence: the closing theme of the first movement.
Craig Klonowski
Monday, November 17, 2014

The fourth movement, Allegro con Fuoco:


The fourth movement (Allegro con Fuoco) is in its essential features written in sonata form, thus its ground plan gives a
clear indication of the exposition, development and recapitulation. The principle of reminiscence, which culminates in this
movement, however, introduces innovative elements of form into the structure of the movement: in particular, this
concerns explicit use of themes from the previous movements. If the very principle of accumulating reminiscences in the
final movement points to Beethovens Symphony No. 9, the manner of its application cannot be described as
Beethovenesque. In the Viennese classics last symphony, the beginning of the fourth movement brings some sort of
recapitulation of the thematic material of the previous movements, after which there is no further instance of it.
Conversely, Dvorak exposes the thematic substance of the previous movements, but beginning with the development
section. The main theme of the fourth movement, even for Dvorak, is unusually eloquent and productive, moreover, it is
immediately exposed for the first time in an impressive brass instrumentation, thereby prefiguring the mood of the whole
movement:

Its striking impact is further reinforced by an ensuing triplet variant with a keenly accented rhythmical accompaniment:

The contrasting second subject gradually finds its voice in a broad, lyrical cantilena

The final energetic theme again reinforces the initial impression of the tone of the whole movement:

The development section is proof of Dvoraks seemingly inexhaustible fount of imagination in the cultivation of thematic
material and in his ability to keep on introducing new compositional approaches. In one passage, for example, he
interweaves the main themes from the second, third and fourth movements:

The recapitulation is abbreviated in comparison with the exposition, so that the majestic coda stands out even more as it
takes in all the key ideas of the symphony, including the opening chords of the Largo in monumental form.
Craig Klonowski
Monday, November 17, 2014