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Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.
I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America,
and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,
By the love of comrades,
By the manly love of comrades.
For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!
For you, for you I am trilling these songs.
–Walt Whitman, “For You, O Democracy,” first published in Leaves of Grass (1856)
In 1892, Antonín Dvo?ák came to America to serve as director of the National Conservatory in New York. His American years were among the most fruitful of Dvo?ák’s career, and the music he produced bears an unmistakably American stamp. Dvo?ák was very specific in saying how he drew inspiration in America, and what future he saw for American music. He found one community within America has an inherent sense for music and had produced something unique and distinctively American; something worthy of broader notice in the world. It was not the many European-oriented imitators of Wagner and Brahms then so common in American conservatories, orchestras and operas. It was something from America’s heart.
He wrote about this in an article published in the New York Herald:
I am now satisfied that the future music of this country must be founded upon what are called the negro melodies. This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States…. [Negro melodies] are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them… In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music…
He proceeded to demonstrate this with a series of works, of which the most notable are the Symphony “From the New World,” the cantata “The American Flag,” the cello concerto in B Minor, and a string quartet he composed in the course of a summer vacation in Spillville, Iowa, known to posterity as the “American Quartet”–but derided by some contemporaries as the “Nigger Quartet” because it made obvious and sustained use of African-American spirituals (especially in the memorable second movement). This latter work, generated among the corn fields of the American heartland, has stood the test of time and is now widely recognized as the most important string quartet of the outgoing years of the nineteenth century.
Listen to Antonín Dvo?ák’s String Quartet No. 12 in F, op. 96, from a performance during the 2007 Bowdoin International Music Festival. It sings the same songs as Walt Whitman, songs from the heart of America, beautiful and plaintive. The performers are Sabrina Tabby and Caeli Smith, violins, Madeline Smith, viola, Genevieve Tabby, cello.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”