This evening, I turned on the CD player and put in a CD full of "American Music." I compiled the CD myself to celebrate the fourth of July last year, and interestingly, there are several pieces by non-american composers that appear on the CD. Among these are Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 "From the New World."
It's a work we often group into the "Americana" genre, as the nation of cowboys and colonials inspired the great work. Infused throughout the work are many original themes that Dvorak wrote based on Native American and African American melodies he encountered in the US. The native Bohemian wrote the work in 1892 during his stint as head of the National Conservatory in New York.
The second movement of Dvorak's symphony is particularly well-known for its beautiful melody which was later popularized as a spiritual (Goin' Home). It's interesting to think that Dvorak was attempting to write themes in the vain of spirituals, and that his original theme was later turned into a spiritual and became widely popular. He obviously paid attention to what he was hearing around the country.
Many composers have drawn on folk songs and themes from the vernacular in their music. However, not many have been able to create an original work which was later adopted as part of that vernacular. It seems backwards, but in fact it shows the care and respect that Dvorak had for this music. It is entirely possible to believe (if you don't know the history behind the work) that Dvorak's tune was in fact a spiritual that he borrowed - it fits all the criteria. Although there is some speculation about this possibility, it's highly unlikely that Dvorak's tune existed before his pencil hit the paper.
Here's a video of Dvorak's wonderful second movement from Symphony No. 9 "From the New World." Enjoy!