Inventing American Music

In the 19th century, as America began to grow from an infant nation into a world power, its musical development lagged far behind that of Europe, and no one had yet succeeded in capturing the distinctive musical voice of the New World. It took the keen ear of the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak to identify the native melodies which would become the American Sound, and to begin incorporating them into his own music. “In a famous interview, he declared: ‘Inspiration for truly national music might be derived from the Negro melodies or Indian chants.’ The response from some composers was racist outrage,” but the next century of American music would eventually belong to Dvorak’s populist vision.