Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Comment: H. T. Burleigh's “Goin' Home” Was Adapted From Dvorak's “New World Symphony”

On April 20 AfriClassical posted a National Public Radio essay by Maestro Marin Alsop, who explained that Henry T. Burleigh's song Goin' Home was adapted from Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony. Burleigh is profiled at AfriClassical.com We have received a comment by E-mail from David Robinson:

“Thanks for the write-up on "Going Home." I always tell my students that it was originally a Negro spiritual that Dvorak put into a symphony. Now I know it was written by Harry Burleigh. Also, I would like to get that set of music by William Grant Still and Ulysses Kay. Do you advertise any music stores that would have the recordings you advertise? I have passed along your information to my students so that they can study the black composers and know how to look for their music.
By all means, I hope that you are in touch with the National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc. (NANM), which I serve as a board member and youth orchestra director. They can be reached at www.nanm.org
I am forwarding this note to NANM's president, Roland Carter.”

We appreciate the comment from David Robinson. The 2-CD set with William Grant Still's From the Black Belt and Darker America, and Ulysses Simpson Kay's Six Dances for String Orchestra, is The Incredible Flutist, VoxBox CDX 5157 (1996). While some music stores may have it in stock, it is widely available on the Internet. A Google search returned a string of websites offering it. They included Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, ArkivMusic.com, Barnes and Noble, CD Universe and Target.com AfriClassical is acquainted with Roland Carter and the NANM, whose program we posted for a convention last year. We hope other educators will also tell students about information found on AfriClassical or AfriClassical.com


HBDirect Music Editors said...

This recording is also available from HBDirect.com, which has specialized in classical music CDs since 1985.

Caleb Boone said...


I must disagree. Your history of the song does not preclude the probability of the truth of the following, suggested by a YouTube commentator:

"The melody of this song is an old Scottish tune brought to the US by the Scots-irish immigrants, adapted by American slaves into a spiritual, picked up by Dvorak while living here, put into his New World Symphony. Full circle!"

The above was taken from the following website:


I would also cite the following:

". . . Dvorak calls this a symphony of tunes he heard in the new world, and though he is a bit vague on which theme is which, it seems that that this particular theme may be the one he called an Old Scottish Folk Tune that he heard a piper play. A good clue is that the composer's notes describe the closing chords with the French Horns sounding like the drones on bagpipes ... but is there any real evidence that this is the Scottish folk tune?

"Well, let's slip back about another 50 years (to 1840) when Angus McKay (Queen Victoria's piper) wrote out a manuscript of pibroch that we still have --- and in particular we find that one of the tunes he sketched out is "The Old Womans Lullaby." Yes, the tune doesn't flow quite as well, but it's certainly the same tune and that gets us back to where we started -- meaning that it was a pipe tune at least 50 years before Dvorak borrowed it.

"The basic idea of a Pibroch is that you start with a theme, develop it and eventually return to the start again.

"In this case the tune itself has morphed slowly over time but has kept true to its form. We don't really know its start, but in 1840 Angus McKay wrote down the Pibroch as the Old Woman's Lullaby, and in the early 1890s it seems that a piper was heard playing it in America where a Czech composer put it into a symphony that he was writing. An American student of his added words and then one of the best Negro singers made it his own. But pipers liked the tune and took it back .. restoring the theme in time and harmony."

The above was taken from the following website:


I believe this song was a Negro Spiritual, adapted by slaves from an old Scottish tune brought to America by Scottish immigrants. Dvorak heard it sung as a Negro Spiritual and borrowed the tune for his symphony.

The tune as used in Dvorak's symphony is apparently identical to the Scottish folk-tune.

I think it is illogical to say it was not a Negro Spiritual, and that Dvorak did not initially hear it sung as such.

It is most highly probable that he did just that. That is, he heard it sung as a Negro Spiritual and decided to borrow the tune after having so heard it.

I have read several items on the web about this melody. The above items are the most plausible.

I wonder why others persist in suggesting the Dvorak created the melody out of whole cloth? Surely even his own words belie this theory.

I understand that Dvorak may have heard it played by a bag-piper either in America or in England. But, I think a synthesis of the two above histories, involving the song being borrowed by American slaves from Scottish/Irish immigrants, and then being sung as a Negro Spiritual, and heard by Dvorak as such, is surely most probably accurate.

The above is the simple, obvious and most common-sense explanation, and is surely the most probably true.

Sincerely yours,


JPdavid said...

To Caleb Boone,

From www.classicalnotes.net and from what I have read in the past.... "The composer himself derided as “nonsense” claims that he used actual Indian- or African-American tunes and insisted that he only wrote “in the spirit” of native American music. In a delightful 1956 lecture (included in his The Infinite Variety of Music (Simon and Schuster, 1966)), Leonard Bernstein examined each of the themes,George Szell and the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra -- Columbia LP cover traced their origin to French, Scottish, German, Chinese and, of course, Czech sources, and concluded that the only accurate assessment was to consider the work multi-national. But as New York critic James Huneker pointed out in a discerning review of the premiere, the “New World” Symphony was distinctly American in the sense of being a composite, reflecting our melting-pot society. Indeed, much the same could be said for our culture generally – it's made of foreign ingredients but emerges from the cauldron with a clear American flavor."

Best regards,