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Dvořák's towering masterpiece is another great ninth - after Beethoven's 9th kicked off the romantic period, Dvořák's 9th as good as ends it.
The subtitle of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 is important: it’s not ‘To the New World’; it’s ‘From’. That doesn't stop people referring it simply as 'The New World Symphony', though. This is very much a symphony that looks back, from the USA, to Dvořák’s native Bohemia. It is almost as if he were stood atop lady liberty herself, hand over his forehead to shield the sun, desperately looking to see if he can make out his faraway homeland.
It was the lure of an amazing fee that persuaded Dvořák to venture to New York. From his house overlooking Stuyvesant Park, he appeared to spend much of his time pining for home, rarely going out (unless contractually obliged to) and taking every opportunity to remind himself of home, particularly during the summer, which he spent with the Czech community of Spillville, Iowa.
When he premiered this work in Carnegie Hall in 1893, critics disagreed over whether it was an all-American symphony (as he’d promised) or just more of Dvořák’s usual fare. What is certain is that it has lived on its myriad merits ever since, remaining one of the most popular symphonies of all.
Illustration: Mark Millington