Timeline of Dvořák in America

Dvořák with his wife, children, and friends in New York. Photo courtesy of Czech Museum of Music, Antonín Dvořák Museum Prague.

September 27, 1892 – Dvořák, wife and children arrive in Hoboken. In first public appearance he conducts world premiere of his Columbian Te Deum in Carnegie Hall. Assumes directorship of National Conservatory of Music of America on 17th Street and Irving Place. Family moves into five-room flat at 327 East 17th Street, near Stuyvesant Square Park.

Mid-December, 1892 - May, 1893 – Begins work on "American themes"; completes score of "New World" Symphony. New York Herald quotes Dvořák's famous statement, "In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music." Dvořák's "curious" theory also sets European musical world abuzz.

June 1893 – Dvořák and family, including six children, plus entourage, leave by train for Spillville, Iowa, a Czech-speaking farm village, to spend summer.

August 12, 1893 – Dvořák conducts gala "Bohemian Day" concert at Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, besieged by visitors including conductor of Chicago Symphony, who arranges for performance of "American" String Quartet, just completed in Spillville.

Via Harry T. Burleigh, Dvořák's assistant from New York conservatory who introduced him to "Negro spirituals," Dvořák meets violinist Will Marion Cook, who becomes Dvořák's student and celebrated Broadway composer and conductor, future mentor of Duke Ellington.

Carnegie Hall, circa 1892.  Site of the world premiere of Dvořák's Symphony "From the New World," December 16, 1893. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Hall Archives

Carnegie Hall, circa 1892.  Site of the world premiere of Dvořák's Symphony "From the New World," December 16, 1893. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Hall Archives

December 16, 1893 – World premiere of "New World" Symphony at Carnegie Hall, to instant acclaim.

January 1894 – Kneisel Quartet premieres "American" String Quartet in F, opus 93, at Carnegie Recital Hall. Dvořák attends Sokol fundraising dinner for Bohemian National Hall.

February 1895 – Kneisel Quartet visits Dvořák for read-through of newly completed Cello Concerto. In April, Dvořák returns to Prague.

1902 – Composer Arthur Farwell launches "progressive movement" for American music, including a definite acceptance of Dvořák's challenge "to go after our own folk music."

May 1, 1904 – Dvořák dies at age 63 in Prague. One obituary read: "If it were possible the Afro-American musicians alone could flood his grave with tears."
 

Commemorative plaque placed on the facade of Dvořák House in 1941 by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, now in the Bohemian National Hall.  Photo courtesy of Traian Stanescu.

December 13, 1941 – Dedication ceremony at Dvořák House on East 17th Street honors his 100th birthday. Plaque mounting and speeches by Jan Masaryk and Mayor LaGuardia. Pianist Rudolf Firkušný and Metropolitan Opera star Jarmila Novotná perform "Biblical Songs," composed in the house. Burleigh and Kovařík, Dvořák's former assistants, attend.

November 11, 1993 – Dvořák's "Rusalka" finally premieres at Metropolitan Opera.

 

 

 

Overview of Dvořák in America

Text in this and following related sections adapted from Maurice Peress, "Dvořák to Duke Ellington:
A Conductor Explores America’s Music and Its African American Roots" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Antonín Dvořák spent the better part of three years in America (1892-95) as the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America. It was Dvořák's nationalist credentials that had attracted Mrs. Jeannette Thurber, founder of the conservatory, to select him as their new director, for at the top of her agenda was the establishment of an American school of composers. Dvořák's folk-inspired music was closely identified with the national struggle to free Bohemia and Moravia from the domination, cultural as well as political, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a role he inherited from the father of "Czechish" music, Bedřich Smetana. Mrs. Thurber offered incentives – a rather large annual fee, half paid in advance, guest-conducting appearances and commissions for new works. But Dvořák's strongly held humanist convictions made America particularly attractive. Its welcome call, "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," had already beckoned tens of thousands of his Czech-speaking countrymen to emigrate to the United States. He himself loved to travel; between the autumn of 1884 and the spring of 1891 he crisscrossed the English Channel nine times to direct concerts of his music in London, Birmingham and other major cities – which explains his proficiency in English. And, here was an opportunity to introduce his entire family, his wife and six children, to the excitements of America.

Dvořák's influence on American music and musicians is evidenced by the widespread news coverage given on both sides of the Atlantic to his novel observations and "radical" statements that "the future American school will be based upon the music of the Negro," and by the distinguished and ongoing teacher-student legacy he initiated – among his dozen or so composition students at the conservatory were two who would become the teachers of Ellington, Copland and Gershwin. Correspondingly, the impact of the New World on Dvořák was enormous. He produced a flurry of "American" works, among them four that remain his best known and loved: the Symphony in E minor ("From the New World"), the most famous of the "Humoresque"s, the String Quartet in F, and the Cello Concerto. Be it money, wanderlust, or politics — whatever the combination of causes that drew Dvořák to American shores — one of the most significant cultural exchanges in American history was about to begin when Dvořák, his wife, Anna, and their two oldest children (the others would join in the spring), boarded the SS Saale in Bremen on September 17, 1892, and, after nine stormy days, debarked onto a pier in Hoboken, New Jersey.

For more information, see:

Dvořák's Arrival and the Columbian Celebrations of 1892 in New York City
Dvořák Conducts the Premiere of his Columbian Te Deum at Carnegie Hall
African American Influences on Dvořák's Symphony "From the New World"
Transatlantic Debate about Dvořák's Ideas on the Future of American Music
Dvořák's Trip to Spillville, Iowa, and Visits to the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893
The Premiere of Dvořák’s Symphony "From the New World" and His Student Legacy
The Cello Concerto
Dvořák's Neighborhoods in the Czech Republic and America
The Dvořák House in New York and DAHA
Goin' Home, the Return to Prague