22 August, 2007

Goofballs Music Reviews #1

This is, like many things on this blog, a glancing overview.

I think that one of the best pieces of Americana, one of the most influential and greatest works reflecting the then more than 100 years old Union (after having endured its Civil War) was authored by a Czech composer by the name of Antonín Leopold Dvořák.

Let's just call him "Tony D" for the sake of saving my keyboard and/or clipboard from those funny Czech characters. Tony D was the Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City from 1892 to 1895 through a set of circumstances too varied to cover just now; but during his tenure he made an astounding amount of money ($15,000 per year in 1892 compared to my starting salary at a San Francisco start-up of $42,000 or so in 1996, nevermind what my father made at a Cleveland law firm between 1969 and 1975 when he made partner, the year I was born).

Was Antonin Dvorak worth that much? The debate during his tenure finally compelled him to leave Conservatory in 1895, but not before penning one of the most well-known and well-loved orchestral works of all time, the Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From The New World", Opus 95.

An adaptation of the Largo from Sym. No. 9 is closely associated with the funerary procession of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I'm sure my parents' first exposure to Dvorak may have come after his tragic assassination.

For myself, having been born a good 12 years after the JFK assassination, my exposure to "The New World" came naturally, either by hearing the piece as it was played around the house or by playing it myself when sneaking into my Dad's den and using his stereo equipment -- a practice he discouraged primae facie but that I think he endorsed implicitly as well, since having his children discover great music clearly gave him great joy (imagine talking to your children about the differences or similarities between Beethoven and Brahms).

Of course Dad was not thrilled when (mostly) me and my siblings managed to blow out a pair of PSB Stratus speakers listening to Jane's Addiction "Nothing's Shocking" (retail: $20,000 per speaker), but the same year he bought me a pair of PSB MK II speakers for my room, and gave me a second-hand solid-state Hi-Fi. Years later I burned the MK IIs out listening to the Akira Soundtrack. I guess I never learn.

Getting back to Tony D, our man from Bohemia.. Dvorak was certainly not the first composer to hear the beginnings of "native" American music: the Negro Spiritual, Native American chants and folk songs. He surely can't have been the first to exploit their melodies and rhythms in orchestral form. But he surely was the first composer to use the Negro Spiritual and the melodies and songs of Native Americans and at the same time capture the imagination of Europeans and American whites on a large scale.

So to "Tony D" we fans of rock'n'roll, jazz, the blues, rhythm and blues, hip hop, pop music, drum and base, techno, industrial, etc, owe a debt of gratitude.

It took this crosseyed Czech to see the magic of America's truly unique musical potential:

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