Friday, 18 November 2016

Charles Ives 19 & 20 November 2016

CB Ives

This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM.  Today’s programme centres 
on the American composer Charles Ives’ extraordinary First Symphony.

Revised twice, in 1900 and In 1902, this charming and powerful piece was completed when Ives was only 24 and student at Yale University.  A tall, athletic young man who took a full part in team-sports and Fraternity musical activities, he was
a great companion, at times ebullient, most often thoughtful, humorous rather than 
witty, and popular with everyone but music-tutors.  He was already a 
noted local musician, an excellent organist 
“He was all over the thing!” - who wrote for his instrument but also for choir or, as was 
a popular form of church music at the time, a quartet of soloists.  He composed parlour-songs, organ- and choral pieces, rag -pieces and student-songs.  He was a superb 
pianist and capable of hearing at least different rhythms at once and of playing three, and if he could parody most forms of music off the top of his head, he was unafraid of using harmonies, modulations and tonal procedures that were 30 years ahead of their
time in their daring and that may have seemed mad.  He had been taught music by his father, the Danbury town-musician, George Ives, a remarkable figure who, during th
Civil War and at the age of 17, had been made the youngest bandmaster in the Union Army. The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery Band
which he had helped found, had performed for Lincoln in the company of General Grant, who had remarked there and then that he knew only two tunes; one of them was Yankee Doodle, and the other wasn’t.  Stories of George were legion.  
He led the town band, wrote arrangements of and fantasias based onpopular tunes, was known to enjoy trying to represent the resonance of bells or lightning on the piano; 
devised a microtonal piano and taught his boys, Charles and Moss, not only to play and sing at the conventional instrument, but also to play and sing in 2 different keys simultaneously!  Charles always held his father up as his musical hero, 
if his musical hero wasn’t Brahms!
For George, there was music in everything.  Music was quite literally life, life, music.

Let’s hear Charles’ song from 1900, setting Shelley, Rough Wind; the first of two songs in which he employed the first subject of his 1st Symphony.  Do not adjust your set because it breaks off in a rush; there’s no formal coda; we are in Ivesland.  
How effective this tiny song should have been if one in a sequence or cycle of songs, throwing emphasis on what came next.  He himself applauded it for ending in two different keys.  Rough Wind, by Charles Ives.

Track 1 Rough Wind, Charles Ives (1.00min)

George Ives also taught his son the theory of composition as represented 
in manual by a noted scholar, Jadasohn.  This was to be unfortunate, as when Charlie arrived at Yale, he found that the textbook that underpinned the course was…yes…
Jadasohn…  Teach his grandmother to suck eggs, he must have thought.  There was a great difference to being taught from a dull textbook by his respected and brilliantly eccentric father and sitting in tutorials with a nationally-established composer to whom that dull 
textbook appeared holy writ. Horatio William 
Parker, the thirty-something professor of 
music theory, soon inured him to
captious reactions to his exercises and 
a University career of average marks.  
In fact, in his musical studies -
as part of a degree in 
General Arts - Ives never gained a 
mark higher than B-minus. In
future, don’bring anything else like 
this to a tutorial.”  

Sadly, Ives’ father died suddenly from 
a stroke within weeks of the 
commencement of those studies.
Charles, aged 20, felt marooned, alone.
Here is the second song based
on the First Symphony first subject.

Written in 1901, the 
longer, through-composed setting is of 
dark and terse poem by 
Arthur SymonsOn Judge’s Walk, which 

“That night we walked beneath the trees,
Alone, beneath the trees;
There was some word we could not say
Half uttered in the breeze.
That night on Judges' Walk we said
No word of all we had to say;
But now there shall be no word said
Before the Judge's Day.”

The end of the song is
as in Rough Wind.

Track 2 On Judge’s Walk, Ives

Judge’s Day!  The Symphony formed Ives’ 
graduating submission, minus its first movement.  
Why was the first movement not 
submitted? -  Because, as it happened, Professor
Parker regarded it as heterodox.  First,
he insisted that Ives go away 
and write a new opening movement.  
Anyone who knows artistic instinct and 
the grip that material and its 
working out have on a composer, 
writer or poet should have known 
that this would be tantamount to 
giving someone a bucket without a 
bottom and telling him to draw 
20 gallons from the well.  Parker 
didn’t regard Ives as a creative 
artist as Ives was his student.  
Ives reported that he couldn’t do
as he had been asked.  Parker 
smiled and requested he at least 
end the thing in D Minor, 
the tonic; at the time, it 

The open-ended construction of the 
first subject was one commanding fault.  
It was so tonally vagrant, running 
with swift smoothness through a shocking 
8 keys, that Professor Parker had 
dismissed the remainder on sight.   To 
the modern ear, however, the almost 
experimental persistence and actual formal control 
that lie behind its waywardness are 
magnificent – what a paragraph!  Also, similar
interesting means of swift modulation into 
the unexpected are used time and 
again in the symphony as a 
whole.  The first subject seems almost
to dissolve into a second group, several
fragments of theme grown from elements
of its neat accompaniment, perhaps.  All
these fragments have some future significance.
A fragrant, faintly nervous fragment becomes
Akin to a Mahlerian tune of 
childhood, filled with something like childlike 
hope or wonder, characterized by high
woodwind; usually, it comes tailed by 
soft, remote string chords…  Another steps 
out, nifty in turns that end 
on unexpected notes as if drawn in.
The exposition ends with a fugato 
that is not the beginning of 
the development!  There is a repeat!
The piece is marked simply “Allegro”,

But its slow, quiet moments are as
striking for their hypnotic fascination, their
fantasy.  The development is dominated by
extraordinary, remote quiet and slowness, anticipating
a similar process in the first
movement of Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony by
well over a decade.  There is
a particularly beautiful treatment of the
Mahlerian fragment for flute, but the 
Matter of the rest might be 
harmonized bass-lines or tiny fragments
of fragments of accompaniment!  One doesn’t 
care; the passage is of an 
order of transcendency that feels as 
an out-of-the body experience may.
Argument continues with sudden zeal by
Setting up the recapitulation with swirls
Of some power.  Back comes
The first subject, this time with urgent,
Pizzicato accompaniment.  There is little that 
Seems literal restatement, and still some 
working out, particularly of the first 
subject.  When hard-toned trombones enter 
Schubertianly with another part of it
One feels the close is on 
the way; it is such a 
good effect that it is repeated; moreover,
who would foretell the just
conclusion of the movement as a
whole?  It is like the sudden, 
flaming outrightness of the Dvorak of 
the Seventh Symphony – and worthy of
Dvorak, or of his and Ives’ 
possible mutual influence, Schubert.  Rough Wind
or Judge’s Walk, indeed.  Like the
Schubertian trombones, it is built on
subsidiary material, one of those fragments 
in profusion that proves how good
an idea it is in transformation.
In another form of slowness, hear
the baleful woodwind, strings and brass 
antiphons at the close – how bold 
and dramatically effective they are, the 
woodwind and strings in weak registers
and discord seem voices of imploring 
humanity, the brass callously or maliciously crushing
themIn D Minor… The thematic 
material has occurred before, in quite
another spirit.

Track 3:  1st Symphony, l Allegro

Ives had mastered not only symphonic 
construction but also orchestration.  He might 
be expected to know town-band
instruments, brass and woodwind, but his
scoring for strings is equally assured, 
well-balanced and sensitive to detail.

This symphony is staggering for its 
harmonic and tonal subtlety, its counterpoint 
and melodic resource.  It is comparable 
with any great composer’s First Symphony.  
The daring of its qualities is 
also extraordinary – at times, the proliferation 
of detail is such that academicism 
is really no more than an
expedient veneer – life teems underneath it 
as individual instruments move as individuals.  
At other times, the heart of 
a quite beautifully ardent young man 
burns – how else could the very 
modern lyricism of the slow movement 
be as it is, other than 
that Ives felt as his fellow-
man feels if honest and unafraid 
of having his loving confidence flung 
back in his face?  In this 
connection, it’s hard not to weep 
for the young Charles, who possibly 
believed that people could but reward 
him for his achievement of such 
sounds within a cogent design. Yes, 
the Adagio molto sostenuto begins with 
a nod to Dvorak, a lyrical 
theme given to the cor-anglais
but this is the first true 
New World Symphony to be written 
by an American.  In any case, 
the thematic material and its reserveless
full up-surge are Ives’ own.  
His use of the sections of 
the orchestra is that of an 
old hand who knows unerringly the 
potentialities of his instruments and how 
their sounds can be blended or 
contrasted.  In 1910, Ives was 
given the opportunity to hear three
of the four movements of the 
symphony played-through under the conductor 
Walter Damrosch; still later on, he 
remembered with disgust that Damrosch remarked 
as he conducted that the slow 
movement’s material, with its “nice” chords,
was charming!  Not surprizing, really; charming 
isn’t the word.  If Ives 
intended to express his grief and
loneliness after his father’s death, the 
vacuum inside him, as he himself
described it, he went further:  this 
is music of universal meaning, a 
love-song to life itself, and 
courage.  Overwhelmingly powerful in its occasionally 
vibrato songfulness, its lovely solos, mounting 
climaxes and moments of quiet pathos, 
it is a slow movement such 
as Mahler – or Dvorak – should have 
been proud to compose.  Also, doesn’t 
it suggest that Ives might have 
named his fee as a film-
-composer in the middle of the
20th Century, the mid-1970s 
and even nowadays?  The shape of 
the piece is perfectly-judged.

Track 4: ll Adagio Molto Sostenuto

One of the anti-modernists’ gibes 
used to be, “Can Picasso draw?  
Well, can he?”  implying that modern 
art proceeds from a self-perceived 
incapacity in meeting the challenge of 
traditional techniques and disciplines.  If as 
an example of Picasso’s conventional studies 
was to hand, they might reply,
Yes, well, why doesn’t he do things like that,
instead of the rubbish I’ve seen?  

Ives, like Picasso could indeed draw – 
that is, in his case, write 
conventional musicachieve the 
expected thing, yet, like Picasso, do 
so while stamping his hallmark on 
what he composed in any pre-
-existing style.  His send-ups, or 
as he called them, “take-offs” prove 
this amply, but to hear his 
early works is perhaps to hear 
an Ives as true and wonderful.  
His early songs and First Symphony 
were pure genius; original, vibrant, 
moving – filled with the life and 
soul of a sensitive, compassionate and 
giving person who happened to possess 
the one ear in New England 
made for where he lived and 
when, and a spirit big enough 
to encompass both hard study and 
a composition-technique most musicians can 
only dream of possessingThe aesthetic, 
the idiom, of the times was 
always made his own.  Ives seems 
to have loved music and amateur 
music-making of most kinds – that 
is, music and music-making that 
proceeded from love of music as 
an entity and as an activity.

If the scherzo with trio is 
the most conventional of the movements, 
it is also unique – Dvorak meets 
Bruckner, whose music Ives could not 
have known:  and Dvorak would not 
have written a fugato for a 
scherzo-theme – canons were the closest 
that he came to that.  The 
fugato-theme should have convinced his 
teachers that Ives could write a 
fugato while standing on his head.  
His counterpoint, thanks to his father’s 
method of tuition rather than the 
manual, was as easy as tapping 
out only four different beats at 
once.  Ives’ counterpoint throughout the 
Symphony is as it is because 
of his incredible sense of rhythm; 
many of the faster parts of 
the music prove thisStrict but 
also anodyne counterpoint was taught at 
Yale under Parker.  Continuation that is 
consistent where strict counterpoint ceases to 
be the music’s texture is equally 
as important as being able to 
construct strict counterpoint in the first 
place.  Ives’ Scherzo with Trio, marked 
Scherzo: Vivaceshould have been recognized 
for the achievement of quick-witted,
well-co-ordinated tactics that it was.
How different Ives’ career might have
been if he had attended not 
Yale, but the New York Conservatory, 
and if Dvorak had been his 
professor! Like the slow movement, the 
scherzo with trio ends quietly and 
abruptly:  ho, for the finale!

Ives' home in CT

Track 5:  lll Scherzo:  Vivace

The finale’s reprising of the opening 
theme and theme of the slow 
movement in its latter stages reflects
the influence of Dvorak, and other
Romantics, but is done as well 
as anyone could do it, without 
longeurs or excessive contrivance.  The build-
-up to these passages and the 
Close is both patient and exhaustive,
With several looks and hints backward.  
The motifs and basic themes are 
vivid and their working-out skilful.  
Perhaps the most memorable is the
one that begins with a Wagnerian 
upward flourish of the most blaring –
but is tailed swiftly by a 
thoroughly Yankee resolution:  it is impossible
To believe that there is no 
dry humour in this, but it
is a cogent feature relatable to
other themes, the sockdologer, as Twain 
might have called it:  the American
inflection occurs near the movement’s outset
against the background of the main 
theme.  The harum scarumness of the 
finale as a whole and in 
conclusion might be seen as portraying
happy memories of some red- letter 
day in Danby, Ives’ home-town, 
or at Yale.  Nearly a quarter 
of an hour long, it gives
an impression of scurrying by.  Later, 
or in secret, unfettered by University, 
such musical characterization surfaced without pretence 
of academic veneer or correctness.
All in all, this effort has 
to be worth at least a 
B.  Or possibly an A surrounded 
by stars, an A such as 
Tchaikovsky awarded the student Rachmaninov!  The
March-Scherzo of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony 
Of 1893 boasts string 
rushes such as appear before young 
Ives’ lengthy but fizzing coda.  There 
is something of the exhilaration – and 
tonal caprice - of Tchaikovsky’s Ukrainian or 
Little Russian Symphony about it all, 

Track : Allegro Molto

During his four years at Yale, 
Ives wrote no fewer than 80 
separate pieces in many different forms.
The first symphony is a beautiful 
work of art, very different from 
Ives’ later works in the genre – 
but not in the least inferior; 
it is the work of talent 
that is assured and accomplished: he
went on growing, evolving and anticipating 
musical developments by a quarter of 
a century or more, largely unregarded
and asked if he really had 
to make such ugly sounds
or if he had any musical 
training…  He earned his living in
business and got older and spikier!
What has sound got
to do with music? Was the 
multimillionaire Insurance tycoon’s peppery answer, or 
out would come an intemperate remark 
on the emasculated nature of all 
fashionable concert-music!  In truth, every 
such experience of contempt for his
deeply and scientifically musical nature hurt 
him dreadfully.  Now, you’ll know why!
This was Classical Break, on Somer
Valley FM, and I’m Rupert 
Kirkham.  Today’s script was researched and 
written by Mike Burrows.  We hope 
you enjoyed it and will tune 
in again soon.  Goodbye!