A New World: Travelling to America from Europe

My own Father never travelled to the Americas. I’m sitting listening to Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” in Providence Rhode Island. In a former time in the ‘Massachusett’ language this was a part of the country they referred to as The Dawnland, the inhabitants of which were the People of the first light. Dvorak’s music for the new world included European folk melodies with their own roots in a previous time, with memories and sources possibly not so dissimilar.   The melodies explored the paradoxical realm of one’s cultural roots being both remembered, and travelled away from; roots that have been obscured or made inaccessible by events, and the journey both away from that loss and toward an unknown yet open future where perhaps these spirits and essences may somehow be rejoined. Will they or won’t they? We don’t know, they are ideas, feelings, memories. The imagery of Longfellow’s Hiawatha finds a kind of Bohemian resonance in Czech dances and songs.

My father enjoyed this music but I wonder what it was to him? In what ways have myself and he made this journey? He and his own father and that generation of fathers were caught up in the first and second world wars of the twentieth century. My father’s enjoyment of travel was taken to Europe- to France, Germany, Italy, Austria. The ‘New World Symphony’ was played on the record player often in my family home in Buckinghamshire, England when I was a child. For me it is one of those sound pictures or backgrounds that formed an unregarded part of familiar life at home, and which I took to be a defining example of ‘classical music’. From the standpoint of now in the year 2007, on hearing this music I can see mental images of leisurely arrival by ship into New York harbour, with the grey skyscrapers of the 1930’s looming in the background, of Ellis Island and the reaches of Manhattan. The music takes on yet another conceptual space; that of something that never happened, something that was for a time an aesthetic sensibility suspended upon the ocean, only existing in transit, never actualised either at source or at destination. But a source of strength when one has neither to hand and must create a space in which to be able to live.

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