The music of Antonín Dvořák has brought into my singing life perhaps the most pure joy. Dvořák’s blend of sophistication and rustic folk traditions yields melodies that are like rivers; you start floating among that beauty and you never want it to stop. One of the most inspiring and heart wrenchingly beautiful performances I ever had the honor to be a part of was NYFOS’s Dvořák and the American Soul (2012, repeated from 2002). This program examined the work of Dvořák arising from his stay in America. It featured the music of Henry Burleigh and considered the two composers’ influence on one another. Beyond this concert, singing Rusalka has been tremendous privilege and my fondest memory. Dvořák can make you ache at the beauty of what he’s written, breaking your heart and gifting you with the deepest appreciation of the musical art and its connection to humanity.
My Song of the Day is “Dobrú noc, má mila” (“Good Night, My Darling”), the first one in the cycle, “V národním tonu” (In Folk Manner), op 73. The text is taken from a Slovalk folk song, but Dvořák preserved only some melodic elements from the original, which he developed into an expansive, soulful melody. My chosen performances is by Lucia Popp.
Good night, my darling,
Let God himself
Be your Guardian.
Good night, sleep well,
I wish you only
Dream yourself a dream, please do,
When you get up, give the dream credence,
That I love you, that my heart
I give to you.
This is the aria that made me fall in love with opera. I first heard a small piece of this in the movie Driving Miss Daisy while Jessica Tandy is working in her garden. Pieces of music have a way of staying with me and this recording featuring Frederica von Stade caught me off guard in the middle of such a beautiful film.
Although the February 20th concert will feature many of today’s talented first-generation American composers, the concept of American music being redefined by immigrants is far from a modern phenomenon. Antonín Dvořák, a Czech composer, is a prime example, coming to American around 1892. Upon coming to the United States, Dvořák was a pioneer in defining American music (years before the discussions and writings of some of the most prominent figures related to this topic, such as Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland). He wrote many articles discussing the importance of African-American and Native American musics in defining American musical identity. Though this song Když mne stará matka zpívat učívala (Songs My Mother Taught Me) was composed prior to his move to America, it is a poignant example of how Dvořák uses his cultural depth and understanding to inspire his compositional style. The clear Czech influences in this song can be heard later in his American compositions, where he mimics the elements of American spirituals. He is an early example of cross-cultural composing, as well as an influential artist in defining American music from an objective outsider perspective.
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