The Dvorak Statement



Mahan Esfahani discovers the past and present of African American classical music.

At the same time as acclaimed Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was finalising the score of his New World Symphony, he was also causing a stir in the newspapers of New York and Paris by asserting that in the music of black America there was "all that is needed for a great and noble school of music." Out of step with many at the time, Dvorak was tapping into a rich seam of black creativity that is rarely heard or written about today. For BBC Radio 3 Mahan Esfahani heads to the USA to ask why we know more about Dvorak's statement than the history of African American classical music. He traces the roots of black American classical music to before emancipation, and through archives and orchestras discovers the histories, triumphs and obstacles faced by these early composers. On the road between New York and Detroit he meets historian Tammy Kernodle, Professor of American Music at Columbia University George Lewis, and composers Nkeiru Okoye, Trevor Weston, Lester St Louis and Pulitzer Prize winner Henry Threadgill to trace the history of African American Classical Music, and challenge his own views as to how and why this music came to be an integral part of the American musical identity.