Czech composer Antonín Dvořák taught in New York City from 1892-1895. His assignment from those who hired him was to help find a uniquely “American” sound for classical music. While here, he found plenty of unique music already here such as African-American spirituals, Native-American melodies and American popular songs such as those written by Stephen Foster. In the end, Dvořák wrote,
“I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.”
Dvořák demonstrated his theories in a new symphony commissioned of him by the New York Philharmonic. The premiere at Carnegie Hall in December 1893 was a smashing success, with the audience applauding thunderously after every movement, to which Dvořák politely stood and took a bow. The symphony was an immediate success internationally as well, and has remained one of the world’s most popular symphonies ever since. It’s today’s Midday Masterpiece at 2:00 pm.