In 1841, Antonin Dvorak was born in the Bohemian village of Nelahozeves near Prague. He was influenced by German harmonic tradition, writing symphonies that were based on Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. He also explored elements of his own culture, becoming one of foremost Bohemian nationalist composers. In the late 1800s, he came to the United States, accepting a job at the National Conservatory in New York. He studied American folk music, such as African-American spirituals, Native American music, and cowboy songs, incorporating them into his music. He died in 1904. His Symphony No. 9 of 1893 is one of the most famous results of this period, fusing Old World harmonic theory and forms with New World melodies and style.
The first movement is in typical sonata-allegro form. The introduction starts quietly and slowly before exploding with angry chords and timpani. These subside giving hints of the first theme but soon return. Theme one is quietly introduced by several solo instruments building up to a dramatic tutti exposition of the theme. This theme is then used to form a modulating bridge which quiets to the introduction of the second theme. The second theme is first presented in the flute and oboe with the clarinet, trumpets, and strings providing a harmonic base. It is delicate and expressive, both melancholy and hopeful. After a modulating section the third theme is introduced, evocative of cowboys and the plains. The short development section starts with the third theme, contrasting it with the first theme and finally giving way to the first theme entirely. Quietly and unexpectedly the development switches back to the recapitulation where the themes are reintroduced in condensed form. After the third theme there is a sudden key change and the coda rapidly ends the movement using fragments of all three themes.
The second movement is in an ABA` form and begins with a chromatic series of chords ending on D-flat major, the key for this movement. The first theme is played by a solo English horn and strings, followed by the beginning chord progression. The B section of the movement presents a contrasting angst-filled theme. Suddenly, the music is interrupted by a joyful melody in the oboe. This melody spreads through the orchestra before erupting into a tutti chord with motives from the first theme, the first theme from the prior movement, and the third theme from the prior movement all intertwined. This quiets before recapping the A section. This time, the second part of the A theme is reduced to ten strings. The return of the first part is reduced to a trio of violin, viola, and cello; which then expands to include all of the strings. The first violins play a rambling pentatonic scale which leads back to the initial chord progression, ending the movement on a quiet major chord.
The scherzo movement is a total opposite of the second theme. The scherzo A section is quick and angry using hemiolas. The scherzo B section is laid back and rambling. The scherzo A section repeats once followed by a vauge slow section which morphs into the trio. The trio A section is quiet, using uneven rhythms. The trio B section is cheerful and bouncy. After the repeat of the scherzo section, the coda contrasts scherzo A material with the first theme from the first movement. It ends on a punctuated tutti minor chord.
The fourth movement is in sonata-rondo form and begins with a martial first theme, which is gloriously played by the trombones and trumpets, punctuated by tutti chords. After a repeat in the strings, the music rushes into a modulating bridge which subsides and then gives way to the second theme: a quiet clarinet solo which the strings keep interrupting, finally taking over and finishing the theme. In the development, the second theme is explored but gets interrupted by the first theme from the first movement in the brass which gives way to material from the modulating bridge. This is quietly contrasted with melodic material created by combining the first theme from the second movement with the first theme. The music develops the ideas just introduced through different keys and guises before giving way to a tutti version of the first theme, ushering in the recapitulation. The tutti is repeated, but suddenly becomes very quiet. The theme is played by several solo instruments acting as a bridge to the second theme. The second theme is repeated in E-major, the parallel of the original e-minor key. The horns play a fanfare which leads back to the first theme followed by material from the modulating bridge. Suddenly the music modulates, beginning the coda. Falling strings lead to an angry tutti adaption of the chromatic chord progression from the second movement with punctuated timpani. The fury subsides, playing a motive from the first theme of the second movement in the clarinets, while the strings recall material from the scherzo A theme. The horns quietly play the opening theme, which builds into a massive augmented tutti repeat of the first theme, accelerating into a series of punctuated chords. The last chord dies away leaving only the winds, playing an E major chord, recalling the second movement.
Grout, Donald Jay, J. Peter Burkholder, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music, 8th Edition. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010.
Wikipedia contributors. “Antonín Dvořák.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 17 October 2010. 4 November 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonín_Dvořák>.
—. “Symphony No. 9 (Dvořák).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 23 October 2010. 4 November 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._9_%28Dvo%C5%99%C3%A1k%29>.