In 1892, classical music was still quite new to America.
One of its earliest patrons, Jeanette Thurber, started a school called the National Conservatory of Music of America. Thurber wanted America to develop its own style of classical music, the way Russia, Norway, Finland, France and many other countries had done.
To that end, Jeanette Thurber hired a successful European composer to help music students in this country learn to write in a classical style, ideally influenced by American folk music, American Indian music and African American spirituals.
She chose Antonin Dvořák, a composer internationally recognized for creating a unique and identifiable sound that married his Bohemian roots with the Germanic classical style.
Not long after his arrival to America, Dvořák started writing his 9th Symphony, subtitled "From the New World".
The slow, second movement mirrors Dvořák's feelings of homesickness.
Some 30 years later, a former student of Dvořák's added words to reinforce that longing: Goin' home, Goin' home; I'm a goin' home.
Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 is a "cyclic" symphony. Themes (melodies) that Dvořák wrote in the first movement come back in subsequent movements. Second movement themes show up in the final movement, first movement themes are in the third movement, etc.
On this week's episode of Learning to Listen, as you hear the story and music of Antonin Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, "From the New World", you'll hear each of these themes and their return in the symphony.
On a related note, Classical MPR's recent Class Notes video, Antonin Dvořák in the New World, neatly summarizes the Czech composer's time in America, particularly the time he spent in the Midwest: