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New Worlds of Dvorak: Searching in America for the Composer's Inner Life Hardcover – January, 2003

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Die-hard Dvorak fans will adore this arcane but vividly written musicological study of the composer’s sojourn in America. Dvorak was director of the National Conservatory in New York from 1892-95, and during this time he wrote his famous "New World" Symphony as well as a number of lesser works. Beckerman, a New York University music professor, explores the literary, political and personal influences that helped shape this creative outpouring. His detailed analysis ascribes much of the "New World" to a programmatic setting of Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha, a precursor to a planned opera that never materialized. Beckerman also provides a fascinating account of the ideology of musical nationalism in which Dvorak was steeped. Dvorak, he says, aspired to be the "Slavic Wagner" and was an exponent of a self-consciously "Czech" musical style. In America, egged on by journalist-provocateurs and influenced by black musicians at the National Conservatory, Dvorák became a champion of an "American" national music to be based on African American spirituals and Indian folk tunes. Although an agnostic on the subject of musical nationalism (he feels that Dvorak’s music was traditional German-style classical music with Czech and American gestures) Beckerman is a sympathetic and insightful guide to the controversies of an era when music was taken very seriously indeed. His contention that Dvorak suffered from agoraphobia and an accompanying panic disorder brought on in part by tremendous stress, and that the composer drank as self-medication, is interesting but not as compelling as the rest of this committed investigation. An accompanying CD, keyed to the text, illustrates Beckerman’s arguments through the music itself.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Michael B. Beckerman is professor of music at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Har/Com edition (January 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393047067
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393047066
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,601,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tracey A. Swanson on May 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Beckerman takes a real chance with this book. Rather than trying to analyze Dvoř?k's musical legacy by starting with Dvoř?k himself, he starts largely with an analysis of the music and uses this to infer the composer's personality. Unfortunately I think Beckerman has in come places strayed to far from the objective reality of Dvoř?k's life and has been swept away by the passions of music, which magnify the passions of life.

Perhaps most curious about New World of Dvoř?k is that it barely seems to discuss the Master at all, but rather seems to spend most of its time discussing the critics, music researchers, philanthropists, and journalists who were so caught up in what they say as the promise of Dvoř?k. In many ways Beckerman does not describe who the composer really was, or what he really wrote, but what he represented to the Americans who brought him to America and followed his every move as though he was single-handedly spelling out the destiny of American music.

Rather than being a true biography of the composer, I would consider this book more of a very narrow historical and thematic sketch of American musical culture at the time of the Master's visit. Although Beckerman makes some very compelling musical arguments that attempt to find the true inspiration of Dvoř?k's supposedly "American" pieces, his analysis goes so far as to claim there the in fact exists no American nationalist music whatsoever, and this conclusion is just too hard to swallow. It is likewise odd that Beckerman insists that Dvoř?k suffered from debilitating mental anguish and persistent psychological problems. It almost seems that it offends Beckerman's sensibilities that a composer of Dvoř?k's historical significance was essentially "clean."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wow, this book does everything you'd hope a book would do: enlightens, entertains, and informs.

The author has done a lot of work trying to understand Dvorak, and his compositions. His explanations of the New World Symphony are extremely convincing, he has found which sections of the poem go with which passages of music.
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I appreciate what Mr. Beckerman is trying to do here, but this book strays far from the path of scholarly research and well into the realm of conjecture. Beckerman tries to analyze every phrase of Dvorak's New World Symphony to uncover its meaning, but Dvorak left few or no details about his thoughts in composing it. Dvorak didn't want the New World Symphony to become a programmatic piece. Instead, he used Native American and African American musical concepts to create a vision of America as he saw it at the end of the nineteenth century. He believed strongly that America's musical future rested mostly with Native American and African American traditions. Unfortunately, Beckerman's insistence on analyzing every phrase puts him way out on a limb, grasping for any explanation and often fabricating rationales to suit his purpose. His love for the New World Symphony is evident, but the process itself is neither enlightening nor particularly interesting, so I'd have to say this book was a disappointment. Instead, I'd recommend "Dvorak in America," by Joseph Horowitz, which sticks to the facts.
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