The second movement of Dvorak’s Symphony no. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”). What is the instrument that plays the poignant solo?
It was thought that Dvorak took this melody from an African-American spiritual that his student and assistant, the composer Harry T. Burleigh, sang for him.
However, Dvorak’s melody, though it may have been influenced by spirituals, was original. The melody was transcribed, set to text, and published as “Goin’ Home” by Dvorak’s pupil William Arms Fisher, who wrote in the preface to the published sheet music (using the typical language of the time):
The Largo, with its haunting English horn solo, is the outpouring of Dvorak’s own home-longing, with something of the loneliness of far-off prairie horizons, the faint memory of the red-man’s bygone days, and a sense of the tragedy of the black-man as it sings in his “spirituals.” Deeper still it is a moving expression of that nostalgia of the soul all human beings feel. That the lyric opening theme of the Largo should spontaneously suggest the words ‘Goin’ home, goin’ home’ is natural enough, and that the lines that follow the melody should take the form of a Negro spiritual accords with the genesis of the symphony.
“Goin’ Home” sung by the great American bass-baritone, actor, and Civil Rights activist Paul Robeson.
In the 1948 film “The Snake Pit,” which takes place in a psychiatric hospital; a band comes to play as entertainment for the inmates.
Sung by the Georgia Boy Choir:
Alex Boyé with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:
Jazz pianist Art Tatum’s version from 1949.
Jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler included it on his 1964 album Swing Low Sweet Spiritual — reinforcing the theme’s similarity to a spiritual.
Operatic bass Soloman Howard in a version that swings.
Abigail Washburn, with the Silk Road Ensemble, which plays a mix of western and Asian instruments, singing it in Mandarin.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma plays it as a “song of comfort” at the height of the pandemic in March 2020 in the style of a down-home folk song.