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November 08, 2002

Dvorak in Love

Friedrich --

You've got me thinking about 19th century American art, and as I was doing so during this morning's walk to work I remembered one of the best books I've ever read on the topic -- Josef Skvorecky's novel Dvorak in Love. Have you checked it out? A terrific treat, enthralling both as fiction and as history.

It's about a visit the composer Antonin Dvorak made to America, brought over by a lady patron of the arts to help us develop our own musical tradition. His conclusion? That we already had a great musical tradition -- in African-American music and in Native American music. Why he wasn't crazy about white people's folk music I don't know. But he went on, in any case, to write the New World Symphony based on his visit here.

As a novel, it's beyond fab: A big, burstingly soulful, poetic, lyrical thing, full of characters with rich inner lives, and organized like a jazz symphony (although I like it better than I like most jazz symphonies). It was one of the books I was most thrilled by during the years when I was following new fiction. I seemed to be almost alone in my enthusiasm, but I thought it was as good as anything by Garcia Marquez or Kundera. Why it didn't get more notice I don't know.

But it's just as good as a reference work for 19th-century American art buffs. I was so taken by the book that I did some research about the stories it tells, and as far as I could determine, everything in it besides the obvious (inner monologues, etc) is true to the facts. There's tons of information in there about early black music, early attempts to create conservatories, and 19th century performance traditions -- and Skvorecky is as touching about the genteel yearning for high art as he is about the beauty and vitality of the folk arts.

It's buyable here.



posted by Michael at November 8, 2002


Thanks for bringing Skvorecky's work to a wider audience. I've always thought that he hasn't gotten the recognition he deserves and I agree with you that his work in general (and this in particular) is as good as anything by Kundera.

Posted by: Harvey on November 11, 2002 11:19 AM

I agree wholeheartedly. It's a marvelous book.

Posted by: Sam on November 11, 2002 12:40 PM

Great to hear from both of you. I've been puazzled for years about why more people not only haven't enjoyed the book, but haven't even read it. Many thanks for dropping by and chiming in.

Posted by: Michael on November 13, 2002 9:12 AM

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