Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical – #6 Dvorak Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95

Coming in at #6 on my Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical is Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95. This symphony is a sumptuous feast of sonic delight from the powerful first movement, through the lovely, quiet second movement, to the combative third, and finally to the explosive fourth. 

The first movement is a sonata form movement, pretty typical with Dvorak. The main theme seems to be a variant of Sweet Home Sweet Chariot, probably the strongest example of the influence of Negro spirituals that influenced Dvorak when he visited the States and that he fell in love with. The first movement is full of Dvorak’s lovely motifs, the high floating woodwinds and strings, the percussive brass. It’s very much a Czech folk infused symphonic work, very much the voice of Dvorak, and not as much as one would think of the New World sounds. Harmonically, it is far more complex, and fairly typical of a sonata-form symphony than Negro spirituals that don’t modulate too far away from the tonic. The movement ends on a fantastic expression of the main theme fully blasted by the whole orchestra. It was said that at its premiere in New York City in 1893, the crowd gave Dvorak a standing ovation after each movement. And why not? 

The second movement is such a stark contrast, Dvorak even drops down to the Db major, a key far removed from E minor, sharing no similar notes. The melodic idea wasn’t borrowed from any spiritual, but it caught the feel of a spiritual so much that it actually become one almost three decades later, with lyrics, entitled “Goin’ Home” by William Arms Fisher. 

The third movement shares interesting similarities with another 9th Symphony, Beethoven’s. It has a similar introduction. However, the similarities end there and this movement is very much a Bohemian dance, similar to the third movement of his 7th Symphony. For inspiration, Dvorak claims he was influenced by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha and the dance of Pau-Puk-Keewis. That may be the case, but in terms of the music, it’s very much Dvorak’s Czech background. 

The fourth movement is also in sonata form, like the first, and this movement is explosive, so much so that drum corp groups have used it, quite effectively, in their field shows. I remember in 1989, the Phantom Regiment from Illinois used Dvorak’s music for their field show in the competition, and I was blown away by how awesome having 100 or so masterful brass players fully blasting Dvorak’s theme sounded. The fourth movement also inspired John Williams with his Jaws theme. 

What works so well with the fourth movement is the way Dvorak incorporates the melodies from the earlier movements to wrap up the whole symphony, concluding at last on the full orchestra blasting the main theme one last time. 

I personally don’t care too much for the mild controversy about how much of the symphony either borrows or is influenced by American music Dvorak heard around him, or the almost passé way in which he added in the “from the New World” subtitle. I think too much emphasis, or maybe too much baggage, is put on subtitles. I can totally understand Dvorak’s feelings in 1893, having grown up in the Czech countryside and now visiting the grand New York City, hearing fantastic new music that sparked your creative expression, that you’d want to explain in the least bit way what influenced this last symphony of yours. The symphony is very much Dvorak at his most polished, most creative and thoughtful. It deserves the accolades, as it has received. 

There are a ton of recordings because this is a popular piece. I’m going to share this one, performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France conducted by Marzen Diakun, who does a great job with the piece. 

#06 – Dvorak Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95

#07 – Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64

#08 – Ellington Afro-Eurasian Eclipse

#09 – Rimsky-Korsakov Sheherazade, Op. 35

#10 – Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Overture

#11 – Dvorak Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22

#12 – Stravinsky Le Sacre du Printemps

#13 – Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

#14 – Mozart Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551

#15 – Coltrane My Favorite Things

#16 – Dvorak Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70

#17 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30

#18 – Mozart Don Giovanni, K. 527

#19 – Liszt Les Preludes, S. 97

#20 – Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro, K. 492

#21 – Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Op. 20 

#22 – Mahler Symphony No. 2 in C minor

#23 – Tchaikovsky String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11

#24 – Williams Empire Strikes Back

#25 – Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 in Eb major, Op. 73

#26 – Bernstein West Side Story

#27 – Enescu – Octet for Strings in C major, Op. 7

#28 – Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

#29 – Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain

#30 – Webber Phantom of the Opera

#31 – Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky

#32 – Chopin Nocturne in Bb minor, Op. 9, No. 1

#33 – Debussy Images, Book 1, L110

#34 – Debussy Pour Le Piano, L. 95

#35 – Chaminade Guitare, Op. 32

#36 – Chopin Berceuse in Db major, Op. 57

#37 – Boulanger Nocturne pour violon et piano

#38 – Schönberg Les Miserables

#39 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18

#40 – Miranda Hamilton

#41 – Strauss Salomé

#42 – Britten Peter Grimes

#43 – Loewe My Fair Lady

#44 – Liszt Mephisto Waltzes

#45 – Webber Evita

#46 – Poledouris Conan The Barbarian

#47 – Bernstein Trouble in Tahiti

#48 – Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

#49 – Chaminade La Lisonjera, Op. 50

#50 – Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Op. 62

Honorable Mention

Wolfe Fire in my Mouth

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition

Glass Anthem, Pt. 2

Weber Der Freischütz

Coleman Lonely Woman

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125

Tchaikovsky Nutcracker

Jobim Girl From Ipanema

Shostakovich Suite for Variety Orchestra

Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944

Saariaho L’Amour de Loin

Schubert String Quartet No. 14 “Death and the Maiden”

Desmond Take Five

Wagner Die Walküre 

Puccini Tosca

Davis So What

Stravinsky Petroushka 

Wagner Tristan Und Isolde

Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings

Williams Raiders of the Lost Ark

Verdi Aïda

Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht

Grisey Les espaces acoustiques

Gade – Octet for 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 violoncellos in F major, Op. 17

Schubert – Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759

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