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Its Very Strange Here

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The Czech composer Antonin Dvorak wrote some of his best music during a stay in Spillville, Iowa. Part of his inspiration may have come from the excitement of new surroundings. He wrote about them to a friend in Bohemia on September 15, 1893:

“The three months here in Spillville will be a happy memory for the rest of our lives. We enjoyed being here and were very happy, although the three months of heat were somewhat tedious. We were compensated, though, by being among our own people, our fellow Czechs, and that was a great joy. If it hadn’t been for them, we wouldn’t have come here in the first place.

“Spillville is a completely Czech community, founded by a Bavarian German named Spielman, who dubbed the place Spillville. He died four years ago, and in the morning on my way to church I passed his grave, and odd ideas fill my head when I see the graves of so many Czechs who sleep their final sleep here. These people came here about forty years ago, the poorest of the poor, and after great suffering and striving they are quite well off here. I liked to mingle with the people and they like me too.

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“It’s very strange here. Not many people and plenty of room. A farmer’s nearest neighbor might be four miles away, especially on the prairies — I call them the Sahara. The only thing to see is acres and acres of fields and meadows. You don’t encounter a soul. Everyone gets around on horseback. It’s good to see the vast herds of cattle, which are out in the fields in summer and winter. Men go into the woods and meadows where the cows graze to milk them. So it’s very wild here and sometimes very sad — sad to the point of desolation.

[“We recently took a trip to Omaha in the State of Nebraska. Omaha is 400 miles from here, and then we went to visit — guess who — Father Rynd whom I met on Czech Day in Chicago — and would you believe where — in the State of Minnesota, in the town of St. Paul, which is 400 miles from Nebraska.”]

Antonin Dvorak looking at the big American landscape in a letter of September 15, 1893.

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