Dvořák and Krehbiel

In DvorÃjk and His World,  Michael Beckerman collections of various correspondents between Dvořák and critics and fan. I found one letter that stood out to me in particular was from Henry Edward Krehbiel. He was writing with praise of Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

Second from the left: H.E. Krehbiel

We know from Simon Plum’s blog post titled Henry Edward Krehbiel published on October 10th, 2017. We know from Simon’s post that Krehbiel was a musicologist and author known for his work on bringing black folk music into the spotlight to be recognized. He was born on March 10, 1854 in Ann Arbor and passed March 20, 1923.

Correspondance from H.E. Krehbiel to A. Dvorak. From Berkerman’s collection.

In this letter, composed by Krehbiel on December 12th 1893 in New York invited Dvorak to attend a lecture he was giving at the “Women’s University Club” on “Folk Songs in America”. Krehbiel wanted to talk with Dvořák about his New World Symphony to write an article on it for the New York Tribune.

After doing some additional research, I was able to find a newspaper article published 5 days later after the correspondence. While there is no author listed, it fits the style and time frame of Krehbiel. It is a short article titled Dr. Dvorak’s Symphony located under the Music header of the Tribune.

Work Cited

Bain News Service, Publisher. Paderewski & wife and H.E. Krehbiel. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, link.

Beckerman Michael, DvorÃjk and His World. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 1993.

Plum Simon, Henry Edward Krehbiel. Music 345: Race, Identity and Representation in American Music. Pages.StOlaf. link.

“Goin’ Home”

While scrolling through the sheet music consortium, I stumbled across a digitized piece of music of which I have a physical copy in my own personal library, “Goin’ Home,” an adaptation by William Arms Fisher of Anton Dvořák’s New World Symphony (No. 9, mvt II Largo, specifically). Personally, I love the symphony and have enjoyed listening to it for many years, but I can’t help but wonder now about the complicated philosophies of Dvořák and this adaptation of his work which place the work not just as a well-known music history class example to memorize, but a work that has juxtaposed good intention with possible misguided ideology.

The sheet music I found includes a detailed account of Dvořák’s intention behind the New World Symphony and the melody on which this vocal piece is based. This description, shown to the left, describes Dvořáks fascination with the native people of the US. In his own desire to see his home, he attempted to fully understand the Native American and black music traditions which showed the true roots of American culture.

I think, overall, the attempt of this work to show Dvorak’s intent shows in the written dialect on the words “I’m Jes’ goin home” and “Gwine to roam no more.” Clearly, Fisher’s adaptation attempts to look to Dvořák’s attempts to draw on black folk music. The music does say that the singer may omit the dialect, which shows that people of all backgrounds were encouraged to sing this music. We also know from the forward of this piece pictured above that Dvorak, while attempting to make an example of true American music, also drew on his own experiences. The spirit of his work was meant to be applicable to many people. In “Goin’ Home,” Fisher develops Dvořák’s yearning for his own home into a universal message of hope for anyone searching for home.

However, the message is pointedly not universal when it is directly associated with black folk music. Even more so, the white composer and arranger have not used an actual black folk tune but made one up – this causes confusion and leads people to believe that the song is originally a black folk tune. Instead of lifting up an already existing melody in the black folk tradition, Dvořák stereotyped his idealized version of folk music and missed an opportunity to showcase genuine, authentic folk music. While the attempt seemed earnest in its good intent, the execution remains slightly subpar.

We must also consider what it would have meant if he’d used a black folk melody. Would appropriating one have been much better? He was stuck between creating one on his own and using an existing one – both appropriation and creation would have contributed to the erasure of this culture in some form, though. As someone who was not part of the black folk tradition, it would have been impossible to find a way to authentically emulate these traditions without erasure. This brings up the question of whether or not he should have written this at all.

I hesitate to say he should not have. Whether that is simply because it is beautiful music or because there is some other argument that he contributed to American music in a way different than MacDowell (who contributed to a “vanishing Indians” idealogy), I cannot say.1 This piece, especially controversial given its dialect text, would be an excellent addition to our class exhibit, however. Since I own a personal copy, and we can give people a QR code that lets them access it online and peruse anytime, I think that it is an accessible source that many could use.

 

 

1 Daniel Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, Vancouver, BC, November 4, 2016.

William Arms Fisher’s “Goin’ home”: somehow a “Negro spiritual”

This week while browsing the Sheet Music Consortium my eye was caught by a particular title: “Goin’ home: Negro spiritual from the largo of the New World Symphony, op. 95.” I was curious as to what this material could be – was the New World Symphony based on a spiritual?

William Arms Fisher

I was surprised to learn that this title was in fact invoking a song written to the music of the largo from Dvorak’s famous American symphony. The lyrics to “Goin’ home” were written and set to music by William Arms Fisher in 1922, after the premier of the “New World Symphony” in 1893. Fisher was a student of Dvorak’s at the National Conservatory, and later went on to become a music editor, historian, and songwriter. He wrote on the impact and importance of 18th and early 19th century American music, and also compiled anthologies of Irish songs and Negro spirituals. Fisher is however most well known for the setting of “Goin’ home” at hand.

In his forward to “Goin’ home,” Fisher writes about his inspiration for writing lyrics to go with the second movement of the New World Symphony:

“That the lyric opening theme of the Largo should spontaneously suggest the words “Goin’ home, Goin’ home” is natural enough, and that the lines that follow the melody should take the form of a negro spiritual accords with the genesis of the symphony.”

“Goin’ home” title page

In this statement by Fisher, as in the symphony as a whole, we see a blending of genres, a crossing of Dvorak’s European symphonic traditions with pastoral and folk-y American inspiration. Fisher believed that the homesick, almost tragic qualities of the English horn melody in the largo movement embodied Negro spirituals, which thus called him to interweave the spiritual with the symphony. However, is “Goin’ home” a Negro spiritual if Fisher wrote the lyrics and Dvorak wrote the music?

This brings up the question of authorship for me, and the author’s/composer’s intentions while writing the music. First of all, Fisher chose to write the lyrics in a dialect, which was a conscious decision on his part. It seems to me like an effort to be more authentic and true to the style in which he was writing, a style rooted in a tradition and experience he did not share. Fisher’s outsider and dangerously essentialized perspective of black people is shown here in the introduction to his anthology entitled “Negro spirituals.” He writes that black people were:

“Given an ingenuous native capacity for rhythmic musical expression, the gift of improvisation, a primitive but intense emotionalism, a condition of life that ranged from the most naïve light-heartedness to tragic somberness, and an utter dependence for consolation upon faith in invisible realities, often tinged with lingering elements from a barbaric past, and you have that truly unique product – the Spiritual with its background of torch-lit groves, swaying bodies and half-closed eyes.”

Sheet music to “Goin’ home”

In this quote Fisher throws one stereotype after another at his reader, while attempting to recognizing the greatness of the genre. So since the spiritual is, as Fisher asserts, “a truly unique product” then why did Fisher not have any qualms about writing music for this genre? Lastly, as I watch videos and listen to recordings of “Goin’ home” being performed, I am reminded of the commercial purposes that this setting of text to already established music serves. The vocal version of this piece increases its accessibility, and provides many more opportunities for performance and commercial consumption. Fisher builds on the success of Dvorak, in a time where it would’ve been prudent to expand the boundaries of this symphonic work.

Sources

  1. Beckerman, Michael. “The Real Value of Yellow Journalism: James Creelman and Antonín Dvorák.” Musical Quarterly 77, no. 4 (1993): 749. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/742357.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A44e9b3926e7a50b8f624e4eafb225c8b
  2. Dvorak, Antonin and New W. Symphony. 95 Adelaide: Cawthornes Ltd, 1922. (retrieved October 23, 2017). http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-166692271/view?partId=nla.obj-166692390#page/n1/mode/1up
  3. Karl Kroeger. “Fisher, William Arms.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 24, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/0974
  4. “The Looking Glass.” The Crisis, February 1927, 210-11.
  5. “[Front Matter].” In Seventy Negro Spirituals, edited by William Arms Fisher, 1-42. Oropesa, Castilla-La Mancha: Oliver Ditson &, 1926. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cdocument%7C3399955

The Melting Pot: Remington’s Chinese Figure Study and American Music

Frederic Remington (1861-1909) was an American painter, sculptor, illustrator, and writer (no relation to the rifle- and typewriter-makers, Eliphalet and Philo Remington). Although he studied for short periods at Yale’s School of Fine Arts as well as at the Art Students League in New York, he was a mostly self-taught artist. After a period traveling through the Dakotas, Montana, the Arizona Territory, and Texas, he had one of his drawings published in Harpers’s Weekly, leading to a long relationship with that publication as well as with The Century Illustrated and Scribner’s Magazine.

Due to Remington’s first-hand experience with the quickly-vanishing frontier, he grew renowned for his visual and textual depictions of cavalry, cowboys, Native Americans, and the American West:

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Knowing about his affinity for the American West, it might at first seem odd that while painting cowboys and campfires Remington also drew this Chinese figure study:

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 10.14.32 AM

I promise you though, this is not odd at all.

As everyone knows, America is a land of immigrants, referred to in past years as the great melting pot (now we opt for the great salad bowl, kaleidoscope, or mosaic). Beginning in the 19th century, immigrants from China came to America, especially to the West, to work as laborers for the transcontinental railroad and the mining industry. These immigrants faced fierce racial discrimination, leading to such laws as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting immigration from China for ten years, and the 1892 Geary Act, extending the prohibition for another decade. Thus the presence of Chinese immigrants in the American West would not have been uncommon, and Remington would have found many study subjects as he traveled the frontier.

“That’s interesting, but why is this post in a music history blog?”

By presenting a Chinese figure in various outfits, Remington demonstrates the Americanization of immigrants: on the left is a figure in more traditional clothing, while the figures on the right take on more and more aspects of Western culture, such as replacing the tunic with a baggy shirt and the cap with a Spanish guacho or grandee. So, by including Chinese immigrants in his oeuvre, Remington was portraying other cultures as an important piece of the American pie. In similar ways, composers like Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, and Antonín Dvořák also sought to include other cultures as members of the American family.

Take the fifth movement of MacDowell’s Indian Suite of 1892, which pulls tunes from the Iroquois tribe:

Or listen to the Largo from Dvořák’s From the New World, which, while not directly copying songs, features original melodies similar to Native American music:

Or sample Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony, in which she incorporates traditional Irish-Gaelic melodies, tapping into the rich heritage of a people long part of the American fabric:

Remington and these three composers are just a few of the numerous artists who rather than exoticizing other cultures sought to portray them as an essential part of the American melting pot.


Beach, Amy. Symphony in E-minor, No. 2 “Gaelic.” American Series Vol. 1. Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Neeme Järvi. Chandos CHAN 8958. Streaming audio. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmLU1CfHcJw. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Dvořák, Antonín. Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”, Op. 95. Prague Festival Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Urbanek. LaserLight Digital 15824. Streaming audio. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TIFEQLANpw. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Foxley, W. C. “Remington, Frederic.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T071404. Accessed April 29, 2015.

MacDowell, Edward. Suite No. 2 “Indian”, Op. 48. Village Festival. Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic, conducted by Charles Johnson. Albany Records TROY 224. Streaming audio. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efDZ100iJMQ. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “A Mining Town, Wyoming.” Oil on canvas. Ca. 1898. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/6329189165/in/set-72157649247951734. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “Chinese Figure Study.” Ink on paper. Date unknown. Flaten Art Museum Collection. http://embark.stolaf.edu/Obj4142?sid=162&x=83&sort=9. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “Recent Uprising Among the Bannock Indians — a Hunting Party Fording the Snake River Southwest of the Three Tetons (Mountains).” Wash on paper. Ca. 1895. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/5042171903/in/set-72157651574818071. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “The Broncho Buster #275.” Bronze cast. 1895. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/5169152407/in/set-72157625248734897. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “The Outlier.” Oil on canvas. 1909. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/5042214861/in/set-72157649247951734. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “Then He Grunted and Left the Room.” Wash on paper. 1894. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/6329996698/in/set-72157651574818071. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. Untitled [possibly The Cigarette]. Oil on canvas. Ca. 1908-1909. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/6332165260/in/set-72157649247951734. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Dvořák and The Song of Hiawatha

When Czech composer Antonín Dvořák came to the United States near the end of 1892, he was met with welcoming arms in the musical community.  With a salary at the National Conservatory of about 3 times that of a U.S. Senator, it’s fairly easy to see he was wanted in America.1 There is some evidence of his popularity in some personal correspondence to Dvořák which I found in Dvořák and His World while perusing the Halvorson Music Library at St. Olaf College.2

Dvorak photo

 

Among the letters sent to him are those written by amateur musicians, requesting feedback on scores, thanking him for his compositions, and asking for rights to perform his published works.  However, digging through the letters, I found some rather interesting ones. One group of letters that caught my attention was by that of an Auguste Roebbelen of the New York Philharmonic Society.  He requested that the orchestra perform his newest work, the “New World Symphony” that year (1893) in December.2 A letter on January first of 1894 confirmed that they did receive permission, and he says that the concert

“was epochal in its character, for it was the first production of a new work, by one of the greatest composers, written in America, embodying the sentiment and romance derived from a residence in America and a study of its native tone-expressions.”

These “native tone-expressions” link back to an earlier letter in this volume sent to Dvořák by a music critic and writer Henry Krehbiel.  Thanking him for the permission to do the notes on his symphony, and providing him with “3 more Negro songs from Kentucky” in case Dvořák wished to use them while working on his new quartet and quintet.  This interested me, and I followed the rabbit hole further, tracking down the original notes that Krehbiel wrote on the premier of the New World Symphony.

On December 15, 1893 Dvorak ArticleKrehbiel wrote an extensive analysis and explanation of The New World Symphony in the daily publication of the New-York Tribune.  In the article, he seems to capture words that Dvořák had said to him during their interview, noting that the melody of the second movement Largo is inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha.  His article even mentions the work of Alice Fletcher, who worked on transcribing and notating Native American music in the later 1800’s.  All in all, it’s amazing to see what sort of influences other people could have on Dvořák or the music he composed.  Letters from an orchestral society allowed them to play piece of his that hadn’t been published yet.  The request for writing notes by Krehbiel gave him an interview which eventually led to my knowledge of what inspired Dvořák for a small portion of his symphony.  These letters set the stage for what we now know of Dvořák: a man who took melodies from truly American tradition, whether positive or negative, and insisted that they be used for the core of American music. Continue reading