Charles Edward Ives (1874-1954)
Symphony No.2 / Robert Browning Overture
'I think there must be a place in the soul all made oftunes, of tunes of long ago...'
The Things OurFathers Loved, Charles Edward Ives
There has been a great deal of discussion regarding Ivesas an experimental composer. The truth is that - despite his bewilderinglydense texture and shocking dissonance - Ives was neither a musical primitivenor a cultural iconoclast. A child of his time and place, Ives shared much incommon with the New England school of composers (Paine, Chadwick, Parker, andothers), and shared also the musical challenges that absorbed his Europeancontemporaries. Indeed, Ives saw himself as a 'continuing spirit' in thetradition of Beethoven.
Charles Edward Ives was born on October 20, 1874, in Danbury, Connecticut. His ancestors were numbered among the town's mostsuccessful businessmen. The Iveses also had reputations for being both a verycivic-minded family and somewhat eccentric. George Edward Ives, Charles'sfather, departed from the family's business activities and entered music.
Enlisting in the Union Army during the Civil War, George was the youngestbandmaster to have served. Following the war he returned to Danbury, where heoversaw virtually all of the town's public musical activities.
Young Charlie was a musical prodigy. Under the tutelageof his father, he received a thorough grounding in the rudiments of musictheory and composition. Charlie eagerly absorbed his father's democratic approachto music appreciation, complemented with a reverence for the works of Bach,Beethoven, and Brahms. Ives attended Yale, where he followed a general courseof study and audited classes taught by the composer Horatio Parker. Parker wasregarded as a superior craftsman and his works were internationally esteemed - thoughmuch later Ives would recall his experiences with Parker in negative tones,identifying him with hidebound German musical academicism. The truth of Ives'srelationship with Parker was more complex, for during Ives's freshman yearGeorge Ives died suddenly from a stroke. Decades later in a letter to an oldfriend, Ives confessed that he had hoped to find in Parker a musicalreplacement for his father, a role for which the busy composer and teacher wasunprepared.
Parker, however, was essential to Ives's development as acomposer, teaching him advanced procedures through the modeling of actualmasterworks. Concurrent with those studies, Ives composed much collegiate andother vernacular music - including a political campaign song for WilliamMcKinley, William Will, and the March Intercollegiate, played atMcKinley's inaugural ball.
Following his commencement in 1898, Ives moved to New York to begin a dual career as a clerk with the Mutual Life Insurance Companyand as a church organist and choirmaster. Despite his ability as a church composer,Ives was determined not to let his future family suffer the uncertain fortunesof a musician's life: leaving his church job in 1902, Ives continued to composein two styles - one tailored for popular consumption, the other radicallyexperimental. Following a tumultuous Federal investigation of the insuranceindustry many companies were closed. Stepping into the power vacuum in 1906Ives and a New York Mutual friend, Julian Myrick, formed Ives and Company,which within five years became one of the country's most successful agencies.
In 1908 Ives married Harmony Twichell who, for the remainder of his life, wouldbe his muse and helpmate. Throughout the first decades of the twentieth centuryIves composed at a phenomenal rate, completing five symphonies and numeroussuites (or 'sets' as Ives called them) for orchestra, a second string quartet,a trio for piano, violin, and cello, two piano sonatas, four violin sonatas, andwell over a hundred songs. Ives would occasionally attempt to organize privatereadings of his works, but the negative reactions of other musiciansdiscouraged him from public performances.
In addition to his double life as businessman and composer,Ives continued his family's tradition for civic-mindedness. He expressed hishumanitarian and radically democratic views on many occasions, even drafting aproposed Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, which would place all mattersof national importance before a popular vote. Following the outbreak of WorldWar I, Ives campaigned successfully for the introduction of Liberty Bonds insmaller denominations to permit support from the public at large. The resultingstress caused a breakdown from which he never fully recovered. During the1920s, Ives began to assemble his scattered manuscripts for publication.
Through his self-funded printings of the Concord Sonata, EssaysBefore a Sonata, and the 114 Songs, as well as various scores thatappeared in Henry Cowell's New Music Quarterly, Ives's work gradually cameto the attention of the new generation of musicians that included AaronCopland, Elliott Carter, Lou Harrison, Bernard Herrmann, E. Robert Schmitz, NicholasSlonimsky, and John Kirkpatrick. When the New York Herald Tribune review ofKirkpatrick's 1939 performance of the Concord Sonata declared it 'the greatestmusic by an American,' Ives's position as the patron saint of Americancomposers was vouchsafed. In 1947, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his ThirdSymphony (which had been completed around 1911). Following surgery in 1954,Ives suffered a stroke and on May 19 died peacefully in the presence of hiswife and daughter.
Ives's Second Symphony (assembled from some earlierchurch preludes and secular overtures around 1900-02, with its symphonicsubstance and orchestrations 1907-10 and final touches through 1950) isundoubtedly the most 'American' of symphonies. Drawing on patriotic marches,Stephen Foster tunes, gospel hymns, and a college song for most of its thematicmaterial, it anticipates by three decades the homespun-flavored works of VirgilThomson, Roy Harris, and Copland. The Symphony opens with a flowing fugato thatwithin seven measures introduces Foster's Massa's in de Cold Ground. Asecond quote from the fiddle tune Pig Town Fling lightens the mood. Theremainder of this introductory movement combines these elements with the mainmotif from Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean. A gentle oboerecitative segues into Henry Clay Work's jubilant song Wake Nicodemus, the mainthematic material of the second movement. Shifting freely from key to key, Ivesfragments Work's song to use as symphonic development. The minor-key version ofBringing in the Sheaves is set in relief against Work's melody. Asweetly harmonized quote of the college hazing song Where O Where Are theVerdant Freshmen? - sounding a lot like the song Dixie - providescontrast The coda, a dizzying collage of tunes - Where O Where, WakeNicodemus, and the hymn
Hamburg - brings the movement to its breathless conclusion.
The third movement, Adagio cantabile, first saw light of day as the slowmovement to Ives's First
Symphony but was withdrawn at Parker's request. Beg