This month's release of Dvořák in America includes the world première recording of Hiawatha Melodrama, created in 1994 by the American cultural historian Joseph Horowitz and Michael Beckerman, Professor of Music at New York University. Based on music by Dvořák and texts from Longfellow's poem The Song of Hiawatha, the words become an integral feature of the work, not through song, but through narration. This combination of music and speech is no stranger to the catalogue.
The centrepiece of this programme is the first ever recording of the HiawathaMelodrama, a concert work for narrator and orchestra designed to show the kinship between Dvořák’s New WorldSymphony and Longfellow’s poem TheSong of Hiawatha, which Dvořák said had inspired him in the symphony. It takes music from the symphony, as well as passages from the American Suite and Violin Sonatina, and fuses them with the poem, which is recited by a bass-baritone. Also included is music by Arthur Farwell, who was influenced by Dvořák, and was a proponent of Native American music. This recording thus celebrates the crosscurrent of influences between the Czech composer and American music and culture.
Listen to an extract from Hiawatha Melodrama
“In musical parlance, the term “melodrama” refers to a composition mating music with the spoken work. The Hiawatha Melodrama here recorded is a third and “final” version which I have expanded to include excerpts from Dvořák’s American Suite and Violin Sonatina. Our objective has been to turn a demonstration arising from scholarly inquiry into a bona fide concert work.” - Joseph Horowitz
“Despite his reputation as a composer of abstract instrumental music, Dvořák used extra-musical images to generate musical ideas throughout his career. In fact, his central ambition was to be a successful composer of opera. In the context of Dvořák’s career, From the New World is at once his last symphony and a precursor to the mature symphonic poems, all of which follow a narrative thread, and to his final trio of operas.”