So it was fascinating to see Dvořák mentioned in Symphony, Simon Russell Beale’s exploration of the perennial form that lets composers rip up the programme to let the music bare their souls.
I don’t know how well Czech nationalism translates into American nationalism, but patriots can often appreciate the sentiments of their peers from abroad. Thus when Dvořák – now head of New York’s National Conservatory of Music – adapted negro spirituals (such as Swing Low Sweet Chariot), incorporated sentiments of the admittedly Rousseauian fable of Hiawatha and inaugurated rolling passages that would inspire Copland, his New World Symphony (no 7) was a hit. Add to this the two-octave prototype for the walking bass snuck in at the very end of the symphony that would inspire first swing then rock’n’roll, and you have an epoch-making work.
The demotic output of Dvořák’s fecund mind made him, if I may mix art-forms, the Tom Clancy or Peter Robinson of his day. It’s so sad, therefore, that his music is largely dislocated from blue-collar culture. Are we ready for another outbreak of nationalism in musical form?