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Steal Away Home

Steal Away Home
February 8, 2020

Dr. Rebecca Raber, musical history
Dr. Rebecca Raber leads The Spiritual as Code in the Underground Railroad: A Symphonic portrait — a look at the use of music by slaves in their journeys to freedom, and the BMSO leads us home with Dvorak’s famous New World Symphony.

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Featuring Dr. Rebecca Raber, commentator and director, Dr. Jeff Stone and Therese Kulas, soloists, and the Prairie Jubilee Chorus
Go Down Moses......arr. Martin Gould
Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot.....Gould
Old Ship of Zion....Richard Harrison Smith
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen....Gould
Steal Away Home...........Clayton White
Deep River...........Gould
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 "From the New World".....Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
I. Adagio - Allegro molto
II. Largo
III. Scherzo: Molto Vivace
IV.  Allegro con fuoco

Program Notes

Antonin Dvorak: New World Symphony.  Antonin Dvorak composed his final symphony between January and May of 1893, while living in the United States where he had been invited by founder Jeannette Thurber to direct the National Conservatory of Music in New York's Lower East Side. 

Both Native and African American influences permeate the Symphony.  In his book, Dvorak in America, author Joseph Horowitz describes reactions of the crowd, the conductor and Dvorak himself at the New York Premiere on December 16, 1893.  Dvorak's premiere was the main event of the concert, which also included Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the Brahms Violin Concerto. 

The first fusion of the American influences comes right away in the first movement when following the cello's "song of sorrow," an accompaniment to the horns erupts in a rhythm that says "Hi-a-wa-tha."  Then comes a flute melody, suggesting the spiritual, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."  The influences of the epic poem The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow are some of the most prominent in the work. 

At the premiere, the audience actually erupted in applause after the second movement.  This movement, Largo, contain's Dvorak's favorite theme of the work, the "slave song."  Played by the English Horn in a now famous solo, this melody later became what we know as "Going Home," when one of Dvorak's conservatory students thought that it sounded so much like a spiritual that he set words to it.  The pulsating rhythms of the Scherzo also emphasize the influences of the Hiawatha poem in an even more dramatic way.  Horowitz suggests that the final movement serves as a noble requiem for Hiawatha. 

The symphony was so successful that a veritable riot broke out at its conclusion. Shouting and stomping erupted; even the conductor, Anton Seidl was clapping and musicians were waving their instruments.  Critics mobbed Dvorak's box.  Dvorak himself had observed that America possessed rich, raw material in its own folk idioms, remarking that "the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies."  All of his nods, obvious and subtle, to the indigenous American elements, come together with the folk-melody, nature-depicting, driving rhythmic forces of his Czech homeland to create one of the most famous and well-loved works in the orchestral repertoire today.