As a part of Trinity’s yearlong focus on the history and power of negro spirituals, the Mission and Ministry Committee periodically shares facts and stories to broaden our understanding. Here is today’s nugget of information:
Dvorak Suggested the Negro Spiritual as America’s “National Music”
The power and beauty of negro spirituals touched people around the world once the Civil War ended and the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Fisk University and other historically black college choral groups began performing in the US and abroad. Influential Czech composer Antonín Dvořák was one moved by the melodies and harmonies of spirituals. He arrived in the United States in 1892 as the new director of the National Conservatory of Music. There, he encouraged Americans to develop their own national music. Dvořák learned of spirituals at the Conservatory through interactions with African-American composer Harry T. Burleigh (composer of “Deep River” in 1916) and was later quoted as saying:
. . . inspiration for truly national music might be derived from the Negro melodies or Indian chants. I was led to take this view partly by the fact that the so-called plantation songs are indeed the most striking and appealing melodies that have yet been found on this side of the water, but largely by the observation that this seems to be recognized, though often unconsciously, by most Americans. . . . The most potent as well as most beautiful among them, according to my estimation, are certain of the so-called plantation melodies and slave songs, all of which are distinguished by unusual and subtle harmonies, the like of which I have found in no other songs but those of old Scotland and Ireland.
Antonín Dvořák, “Music in America,” Harper’s 90 (1895): 432, as found in https://spirituals-database.