The Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was one of Europe’s most accomplished composers of the latter 19th century and one of the most influential figures of the nationalist movement in what is now Czechoslovakia. His romantic orchestral, choral, and chamber works were often influenced by Slovic and other Eastern European folk music.
In 1892 Dvorak accepted a position at the National Conservatory of Music in New York to teach composition and orchestration and to conduct the choir and orchestra. The following year Dvorak composed one of his most famous pieces, Symphony no. 9, From the New World, which was premiered in Carnegie Hall in December of 1893. Based on simple pentatonic themes, which Dvorak believed were common to Native American and African American folk music, the piece occasionally evokes a feeling of African American spirituals and includes a fragment from “Swing Low Sweet Chariots”in the G major theme of the work.
In 1893 Dvorak penned an article in the New York Herald in which he urged American composers to turn to their own folk music, particularly African American melodies and Native American chants, as source material for compositions that would reflect a distinctly “American” flavor. While a number of composers tried unsuccessfully to work with Native American materials, black spirituals influenced the works of a number of American composers including George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, William Grant Still, Harry Burleigh, and Duke Ellington.