In his pursuit to capture “American” music and contrary to thought at the time, Antonín Dvořák famously envisioned, “In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.“ Antonín Dvořák was introduced to African American spirituals through his student Henry "Harry" Thacker Burleigh, who later became a prominent African American composer. Burleigh sang for Dvořák the spirituals and plantation songs that he learned from his blind grandfather, who was once a slave. Dvořák encouraged Burleigh to transcribe and perform many of these melodies. Being mutually inspired, Dvořák immersed himself in these sorrow song melodies and spirituals, such as Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, can be heard in the first movement of Dvořák’s New World Symphony.
Listen to the spirituals that Burleigh sang to Antonín Dvořákas well as see the original New World Symphony manuscript on loan from the National Museum of the Czech Republic accompanied by a special symposium with musicologist Michael Beckerman at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, from 1- 4 p.m. on October 1, 2011.