Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Goin Home: Antonin Dvorak & William Arms Fisher

So if you can believe it, here we are at the final story behind American Songs volume 2: Goin Home.

If you've missed the stories behind American Songs volume 2 in previous posts and would like to catch up, please use these links:



Story behind the song:
The melody for "Goin' Home" was written by the classical Czech composer Antonin Dvorak in 1893 as part of his Symphony no. 9: From the New World (a symphony loosely based on Longfellow's poem "Song of Hiawatha"). In the early 1890's, Dvorak was invited to teach for a four-year residency at the American Conservatory of Music in New York.

Dvorak was very interested in "peasant music" when he lived in Prague, and when he came to America, that interest transferred over to what he referred to as "negro melodies." His copy assistant Harry Burleigh (an African-American) played a large role in introducing him to these folk songs. Dvorak began to promote the controversial idea that African-American music would be the future of America. He incorporated these musical themes into his own music, and admitted talented African-American musicians into his classes free of charge.

Now this idea of Black music as the "future of America" was controversial in a number of ways. Some, as you would expect, felt he was tainting the fine art of classical music by incorporating such a "lowly" art form. Others felt that Dvorak's analysis wasn't authentic, but based solely on some of the popular affectations of "negro melodies" written by white men (like Stephen Foster, for example)...I found this interesting piece in a May 30, 1893 article in the South Carolina paper, "The State":
Had Dvorak, who is learned in music, been long in this country, he would know, as nearly everyone else knows, that none of the so called "negro melodies" is of negro origin..."The Swanee River," "Nellie Gray," "Massa's in the cold, cold, ground," and the other accepted melodies pertaining to Afro-Americanism are the creations of white men. Dr. Dvorak ought to spend a winter in Blake Township, Colleton County, or on Hilton Head Island. There he would hear genuine negro melodies. He can't hear them in the concert halls of the North.
Nevertheless, Dvorak's interest in African-American melodies (which did include spirituals like "Swing Low Sweet Chariot") affected many in the music world. One of his students, William Arms Fisher, took his message to heart and began collecting, arranging, and publishing hundreds of African-American spirituals. He also wrote words to the Largo movement of Symphony no. 9, which became known as "Goin' Home."

I chose "Goin' Home" for the last song of American Songs volume 2 because, despite the fact that it is not technically American music, but European, it was monumental in the way the world began to hear traditional American folk music. And thematically, all the songs on this new album have to do with traveling, moving, trying desperately to get to a place of hope, freedom, or love. How else could it possibly end?

Here is a very interesting article about Dvorak and the American landscape of the 1890's from University of Texas. (If you click on the gorgeous Bierstadt Indian Canoe oil painting, you can watch an analysis of "New World Symphony.")

Here's more on William Arms Fisher and his relationship with Dvorak. (Scroll down until you hit "Fisher.")

Here is a beautiful version of the 2nd movement played by the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra:


Lyrics
(Click on the song title to listen to a sample):

Goin' Home, music by Antonin Dvorak, words by William Arms Fisher

Goin' home, goin' home,
I'm a-goin' home,
Quiet like some still day,
I'm jes' goin' home.

It's not far, jes' close by,
Through an open door,
Work all done, care laid by,
Gwine to fear no more.

Mother's there 'spectin' me,
Father's waitin' too,
Lot's o' folk gathered there,
All the friends I knew.

Home, home, I'm goin' home.
Nothin' lost, all's gain.
No more stumblin' on the way,
No more longin' for the day,
Gwine to roam no more.

Mornin' star lights the way,
Res'less dreams all done, all done,
Shadow's gone, break o' day,
Real life's jes' begun.

Dere's no break, ain't no end,
Jes' a-livin' on,
Wide awake with a smile,
Goin' on and on.

Goin' home, goin' home,
I'm jes goin' home,
It's not far, Jes' close by,
Through an open door,
I'm jes' goin home.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Please Come Flying,
Thanks very much for clarifying a great muscial mystery on Going Home.
As best I can recall I first heard it on a Paul Robeson tape. I assumed that it was an African American spiritual.
Over the years when I heard Dvorak's New World Symphony I recognized the tune. I've spoken to a few friends who know quite a bit about music, but they could not say whether Dvorak wrote the song or only incorporated an African American melody. It is fascinating story of a Bohemian composer who studied and incorporated African American music and helped promote respect for African American music and musicians.
Yours, Big Train

Josephine Cameron said...

Thanks for your comment, Big Train. It is a fascinating story with lots of complexities. I've even seen some claims that Burleigh wrote the tune and Fisher took the credit for it, but I haven't yet found much to corroborate that claim. Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I have heard this with alternative lyrics

River road, river road, winding to the sea,
it's the road leading home, where I long to be...

Do you know where I can find the full version of these lyrics ?

Josephine Cameron said...

Hm...I haven't come across that version. There's a great thread over at Mudcat.org about various versions of the song. You might head over there & ask if anyone has heard about it.

There was a version called Rolling Home (Rolling home, rolling home, rolling home across the sea/Rolling home to old New England, rolling home dear land to thee)...might be that your version was a modification of that? I love this about old songs...they get changed here and there over time and we end up with tons of beautiful versions all in their own right!

Good luck & let me know if you find it. :)

jllitton said...

river road river road winding to the sea
that's the path leading home where i long to be
long to see folks i knew, friends of long ago
long to sit by my door in the sunset's glow
river road ,river road winding to the sea, that's the path leading home where i long to be
girl of mine wait for me i'll be back some day; won't be long ,i'll be home, i'll be back to stay
all the while i've been gone you've been by my side; if i can't make you proud, least you know i tried
girl of mine wait fo me like you said you'ld do; someday soon i will walk the river road with you;
the river road with you

Josephine Cameron said...

Oh, that's lovely. How'd you come across the full lyrics?

Reagan said...

Delightful experience to track down where the lyrics originated.
Black culture has merged with European White culture. We are all richer for it.

Anonymous said...

River Road, River Road, Winding to the Sea. That's the Road, leading home, where I long to be.

Long to see folks I know, Friends of long ago, Long to --- forgot the rest of the lyrics but it went something like "feel, the warmth of the sunset glow"

I had a piano book with lyrics to Moon of Dawn , which was Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.. it went something like "Moon of Dawn. Moon of Dawn. Gone too soon.." that's all I remember... but it was in the same piano book

OrganicMama said...

Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. :)

eloisethatsme said...

My husband's family is Czech in origin (sometimes referred to as Bohemian) and he maintains that the tune by Dvorak known now as "Going Home," was played as background music at Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago. The words by W. A. Fisher certainly are apropos in that setting. Dvorak is a favorite composer of the Czechs.

Marie said...

In the 1950s, in the Philippines, an American nun named Sister Mary Joseph Regis used to sing this song with lyrics starting,

"Shot by sun, one my one, golden arrows fly..."

Does anyone know the rest of these words? And could you please post them?

Thanks.

eppycenter said...

The previous comment about "Rolling home..." I heard sung by Archie Fisher who sang "Rolling home to Caledonia" (Scotland). Thanks for all the insight. eppycenter

Anonymous said...

I have been looking for all the lyrics to a tune I learned as a child in the early 1950's. It was in a music book when I played piano. This is what I recall...River road, river road winding to the sea, that's the road leading home where I long to be. Long to sit by my door in the sunset glow, long to see folks I knew, friends from long ago.

Sure would love to find all the lyrics!

Josephine Cameron said...

Anonymous, did you check out the versions people posted in the comments above? jlitton's entry looks exactly like the version you're searching for!

Ralph S. said...

I remember many years ago in our school assembly singing "Goin' Home" with beautiful spiritual lyrics beginning with: "Down de road, down de road, on my way to home," etc. Is there anyone who knows or has these lyrics?

Anonymous said...

Goin Home
My Dad's wish was for this to be played at his funeral, so after painstakingly finding the Paul Robeson version, we did have it played at the end of his Cremation service. It certainly haunted me then and now still. I have a CD in my car for my commute to work and truly appreciate how moving the work is. How talented to be able to write such a thing.

Anonymous said...

I heard this song during the MN orchestra playing Dvorak new world symphony....it s like you know you've heard it before but you know you haven't...so beautiful,so haunting...you can see the men goin home after the war.....i lke the version that says Jesus is the door....

Anonymous said...

I came to this page after reading a reference to the song Going Home in Sue Grafton's novel W Is for Wasted (p. 482). Unfortunately, the link to the sample doesn't work any more. Here' s a Paul Robeson version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhsHzVNzxm4

Ralph S said...

I asked this before, but received no replies. The words (with omissions)I remember from my old grade school song book went like this:
"Down de road, down de road,
On my way to home,
Tired and blue, weary, too,
Never more to roam.
Friends of old, hearts of gold
Waitin' there for me, etc.
(This is where I draw a blank.)
It ends with "And I guess happiness calls me down de road."