Virtual Music Hour

  Dvořák Archive


Introducing Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”


  Listen to the Music

This week's Virtual Music Hour is dedicated to the AMG National Trust Bank.


  Activity

Welcome to Virtual Music Hour. In preparation for your listening experience, Assistant Principal Violist Catherine Beeson has made guides with activities that can be enjoyed alone, with your quarantine buddies at home and online, or with your students. These activities can be mixed, matched, and altered to create an experience that’s right for you, or as inspiration to create your own. Get as creative as you’d like. Share it with us on social media! If you like seeing and hearing the Colorado Symphony musicians online, imagine how uplifting it would be for us to see and hear you too!

Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” is a powerful and wildly popular piece of music that was not only “Made In America,” but heavily influenced by uniquely American sounds. The great American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein stated that it was “truly multinational in its foundations” owing largely to the use of Bohemian rhythms and the modeling of melodies after African American and First Nations folk music. It is, in turns, majestic, beautiful, dance-like, and thrilling. Discover for yourself why it was an immediate sensation and continues to be so engaging for audiences 127 years later!

  • Antonín Dvořák composed his Ninth Symphony in 1893 when he was teaching at the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. He was 52 years old.
  • The piece lasts for about 40 minutes and is in four sections called movements, like a book with four chapters. Each movement has its own unique characteristics and function, but as he goes along Dvořák uses a technique recalling elements of the prior movements to tie the whole symphony ‘chapter book’ together.
  • The first performance of Symphony No. 9 was in Carnegie Hall. It was a huge success and the audience clapped so hard after every movement that Dvořák was compelled to stand up and bow each time!
  • This music sounds lush and exciting – in part because it calls for 2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes and English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, alto trombone, tenor trombone, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbals, and a large string section. That’s quite a list!
  • The second movement Largo melody is exceptionally popular in part because a student of Dvořák put lyrics to it and titled it “Goin’ Home.” Many versions of this tune exist, including this one by Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road ensemble sung in Chinese and English, and featuring instruments from around the world.

Here is a listening map that can guide you through the piece. Read it in advance or while you’re listening!



Movement 1

Adagio – Allegro molto
In English: slow – very lively

The symphony begins with a slow and contemplative melody in the lower strings, which is lightly punctuated by horns. The melody is repeated in the higher winds, this time punctuated by the aggressive opening of the faster Allegro molto music, which builds to a dramatic first statement of the main theme in the horns at the 2:02 mark.

From here, and for the next 6 minutes or so, the music alternates dramatically between brightly punctuated and smoothly flowing characters.

Finally, at 8:10 the music melts down to a solo flute melody which is taken up and repeated by the violins before the French horns propel us into a somewhat frenzied outburst from 8:43 until the end.

Dvořák is known for composing some great melodies. Melodies, or tunes, are built on scales. A scale is a musical scaffold like a ladder on which notes can climb up and down. You may be familiar with the Do, Re, Mi song from The Sound of Music – that song uses a 7-note scale, or musical ladder in which we step on every rung, ex. G, A, B, C, D, E, F. The melodies in the first and second movements of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony rely heavily on a pentatonic, or 5-note, scale. In the pentatonic scale we skip some rungs on the musical ladder, ex. G, A, B, D, E. The pentatonic scale exists in folk music from many cultures around the world. When Dvořák visited the United States and was composing his Ninth Symphony “From the New World,” he was excited to discover that the pentatonic scale from his homeland of Bohemia was also being used by African American and First Nations composers.

You may already know the Largo second movement melody as a tune called “Goin’ Home.” A student of Dvořák put words to the melody and gave it the title. It has since become so popular that many people thought it was originally a folk tune which Dvořák used in the symphony instead of the other way around! What other tunes can you think of that show up in different contexts, or have had different lyrics written to them? For example - “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” and the alphabet song all use the same tune … which Mozart also used and was originally a French folk song!

Folk songs are typically passed from person to person, generation to generation.

  • What songs do you remember learning from a friend or family member?
  • Are there any songs or tunes you’ve learned “by ear” that wouldn’t be considered folk songs?
  • For example, many of us hear classical music for the first time in movies or television shows without even realizing it!

 

Let’s explore the sound of the pentatonic scale! In these activities you will get to compare an African American folk song to the “Goin’ Home” melody from the Largo second movement of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, and then experiment with building your own pentatonic melodies.


Below is the basic melody to the African American folk song “There’s a Little Wheel a Turnin’ In My Heart.” Try singing it or playing it if you have an instrument handy. This example is notated for C recorder, but works just as well for voice, piano, flute, violin, glockenspiel, or kazoo. Get creative and try it together with friends, family, or classmates online!

Listen to Colorado Symphony Assistant Principal Violist Catherine Beeson playing it from home!


The second movement Largo melody of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony is another great example of the pentatonic scale in action. You might recognize it as the song “Goin’ Home.” Try singing or playing this melody. Because we love you, the example here is notated for kazoo and has been mercifully shifted away from its original key of D flat major. You’re welcome.

Listen to Colorado Symphony English hornist Jason Lichtenwalter playing it from home!


Now that you’ve had a chance to hear, sing, and play these two melodies consider the following.

  • Both of the melodies used the same pitches. How did the tunes sound similar, different?
  • What other similarities or differences did you notice that gave the tunes their own character?

Experiment with building your own pentatonic scale melody using the same pitches – G, A, B, D, E. You might want to decide how many notes to use before you get started - a range of 12 to 16 for example.

  1. First, if you’re not familiar with music notation you can begin by drawing from left to right a single line contour shape or a staircase shape that goes up and down, and then putting the musical alphabet notes onto it according to how high or low your drawing goes. G is the lowest sounding note, and E is the highest in our pentatonic sound world for this activity. In the examples above we used a staff, which is really just a series of lines and spaces that go up and down just like a ladder. You could experiment that way too!
  2. Next add a little rhythm to your notes, making some of them longer and shorter in duration than others. Use a familiar rhythm or make up your own. This is all for experimentation and fun!
  3. Finally, sing or play your melody and compare it to “Little Wheel” and Dvořák’s "Goin’ Home” tune. Consider the same questions above, and pat yourself on the back for becoming a composer!

Now that you’ve had a chance to consider, discuss, and get active around elements of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, it’s time to listen to the Colorado Symphony performance. There are all sorts of ways to engage as a listener, especially when listening at home instead of the concert hall. Sing along to the melodies as your ear learns them, move and dance to the unique rhythms and character of each movement, listen for the way instrument sounds are woven together and pieced apart, observe how dramatic moments are created, or just turn the volume up and listen for sheer pleasure!

Afterwards, have a discussion!

 

  • How was your listening experience?
  • Did you try some new things?
  • In what ways did the discussion or activities affect this experience?

  

#PlayOn

Please share your musical adventure with us through social media! We would love to hear about it or see any of your activities, journaling, or creations!

@coloradosymphony
#coloradosymphony

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