Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1893

Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” receives its world premiere in New York City

On December 16, 1893, the Philharmonic Society of New York gave the world premiere performance of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor “From the New World” at Carnegie Hall. In his review of the performance the following day, New York Times music critic W.J. Henderson called the piece better known today as the New World Symphony, “A vigorous and beautiful work” that “must take the place among the finest works in this form produced since the death of Beethoven.” But in a review that ran close to 2,000 words, Henderson devoted perhaps 90 percent of his attention not to praising the artistic merit and craftsmanship of the New World Symphony, but rather to defending the controversial and ultimately political choices made by its composer. At a time when composers and critics in the United States were straining to identify and foster a uniquely American sound, the Czech immigrant Dvorak’s work suggested that the basis for such a sound was to be found not in the European tradition, but in the music of African Americans. 

Already recognized internationally as one of the finest living composers of symphonic music, Antonin Dvorak took up the directorship of the new National Conservatory of Music in New York City in 1892, enticed by the then-unthinkably high annual salary of $15,000 and by the charge given him by the Conservatory’s benefactress, Jeannette Thurber, to show America “the promised land and kingdom of a new and independent art—in short, to create a national music.” Much to the consternation of some critics, Dvorak would find the inspiration to fulfill that mission in a folk tradition that many white Americans regarded as “primitive.” But as Dvorak informed the New York Herald in May 1893, “In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.”

Though he would be referred to derisively as a “negrophile” by Boston’s most prominent music critic even years after his death, Dvorak found an enthusiastic reception among critics and music lovers in New York City. “Is it American?” W.J. Henderson asked in the conclusion of his Times review of the New World Symphony. “The answer to this question depends wholly upon the attitude which the American public decides to take in regard to the sources of Dr. Dvorak’s inspiration.”

The next century of popular music would prove the accuracy of the musical vision Dvorak first expressed in the work that received its world premiere on this day in 1893.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The Boston Tea Party

In Boston Harbor, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships and dump 342 chests of tea into the harbor. The midnight raid, popularly known as the “Boston Tea Party,” was in protest of the British Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773, a ...read more

Clinton orders air attack on Iraq

On this day in 1998, President Bill Clinton announces he has ordered air strikes against Iraq because it refused to cooperate with United Nations (U.N.) weapons inspectors. Clinton’s decision did not have the support of key members of Congress, who accused Clinton of using the ...read more

Jane Austen’s birthday

English novelist Jane Austen is born on this day in 1775, the seventh of eight children of a clergyman in a country village in Hampshire, England. Jane was very close to her older sister, Cassandra, who remained her faithful editor and critic throughout her life. The girls had ...read more

Truman declares state of emergency

In the wake of the massive Chinese intervention in the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman declares a state of emergency. Proclaiming that “Communist imperialism” threatened the world’s people, Truman called upon the American people to help construct an “arsenal of freedom.” ...read more

Sons of Liberty dump British tea

On this day in 1773, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships moored in Boston Harbor and dump 342 chests of tea into the water. Now known as the “Boston Tea Party,” the midnight raid was a protest of the Tea Act of 1773, a ...read more

Battle of the Bulge

On this day, the Germans launch the last major offensive of the war, Operation Mist, also known as the Ardennes Offensive and the Battle of the Bulge, an attempt to push the Allied front line west from northern France to northwestern Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge, so-called ...read more