Antonín Dvořák

Symphony No. 9

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: 40–45 Minutes
Genre: Symphony
Time of Creation: 1892–1893
World Premiere: December 16, 1893 (New York)

Table of Contents

Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in 5 Sentences

Antonín Dvořák composed his Symphony No. 9 at the height of his career: he traveled to the United States in 1892 to take up his position as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America. He processed the impressions of his stay in America in his ninth symphony, which therefore also bears the epithet “From the New World”. Of course, Dvořák’s work is not “typically American,” however; it is much more noticeable for the many different cultural influences that shaped Dvořák. The Symphony No. 9 was a resounding success immediately after its premiere by the New York Philharmonic and remains Dvořák’s most performed work to this day.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Dvořák's Symphony No. 9

Highlight 1: First movement – wistful to stirring

Dvořák’s ninth symphony begins with a wistful introduction that gradually turns into a rousing fast section:

Highlight 2: Second movement – spotlight on the English horn

The second movement is dominated by one of the most famous English horn solos ever:

Highlight 3: Third movement – striking and powerful

The third movement is a powerful scherzo, but with the lyrical middle section formally reminiscent of scherzos by Bruckner:

Highlight 4: Fourth movement – pure energy

In the final movement there is no stopping. Here also the famous, energetic horn theme finds its place, which is often quoted:

3 Questions and Answers about Dvořák's Symphony No. 9

Question 1: What inspired Dvořák to write the 9th Symphony?

Dvořák drew inspiration for his 9th Symphony from his three-year stay in America, during which he also studied Native American music (see also the quote below). The symphony is therefore nicknamed “From the New World”.

Question 2: Why did Dvořák go to the USA?

Dvořák was a well-known composer in the U.S. because he had made a concert tour there in 1894. Then in 1892 he was appointed director of the National Conservatory of Music of America, which is why he stayed in the U.S. for a long time.

Question 3: How many symphonies did Dvořák write?

Dvořák wrote nine symphonies. His last and most famous is the New World Symphony.

2 Recommended Recordings of Dvořák's Symphony No. 9

Recording 1: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mariss Jansons (live, 2004)

The close relationship between the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and its then-chief conductor Mariss Jansons (who sadly died too soon) is immediately apparent in this performance of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony:

Recording 2: NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Manfred Honeck (Livestream, 2021)

Wow, that’s powerful. The last movement of Dvořák’s Ninth (from 30:52) really gets going “con fuoco” (“with fire”) in the performance with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester and Manfred Honeck, just as Dvořák wanted it 😉

1 Quote about Dvořák's Symphony No. 9

I carefully studied a certain number of Indian melodies given to me by a friend, and became wholly imbued with their qualities – rather, their spirit. I have tried to reproduce this spirit in my new symphony without actually using the melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the idiosyncrasies of Native American music, and developed them with the resources of modern rhythms, harmony, counterpoint, and orchestral color.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Tony Reilly

    Many years ago, the New World symphony was known as his Fifth symphony in e minor. Why is it now known as the ninth?

    1. Jonathan Stark

      Hi Tony! In earlier years, it was common to count the symphonies in the order of their publication dates. However, today we usually prefer to count the symphonies in the order of their time of creation. This is a phenomenon that can be seen with many composers – I’m not 100 % sure, but I think it is especially obvious in Haydn’s Symphonies. What is known today as Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 (because he composed it at a very late point in his life) used to have a MUCH smaller number (I believe 12 or so) because of its publication date.

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