Charles Ives was forty-four years old in 1918 when he suffered he major heart attack that severely curtailed his activities as one of the foremost Insurance executives in the country and weakened him to the point that he virtually ceased composing — an avocation he had been pursuing furiously on weekends and after work since his Yale days (1894-98). One of his activities during his recuperation was to „clean house”; from approximately 180 songs he had written since 1887, he chose 114 to be printed at his own expense and distributed free to those he thought might be interested. Of the 17 songs on this recording, all but two (In the Mornin’ and A Farewell to Land) can be found in the 114 Songs (printed in 1922), long a collector’s item and now available in a recently reprinted edition. Ives’s songs, though only a fraction of his prodigious output, encompass the remarkable diversity of •musical styles and ideas found in his larger works.
Ives’s compositional methods reflect his complex philosophical outlook. He was fascinated by ambiguities and paradoxes and strove to embody these qualities in his writing. Frequently he found musical inspiration in non-musical ideas (literary, patriotic, religious, political, or philosophical) which he translated into musical terms with such spontaneity and sense of immediacy that the result sometimes seems like an aural „visualization” of its subject. A deep respect for diversity, for the uniqueness of every facet of the created universe, led Ives to end-less experimentation with different musical styles. At the same time, he felt that everything „from a rock to a star” was related, though inviolable and ultimately indivisible; music was one of the expressions of human experience. Ives stated wryly, „… a song has a few rights the same as ordinary citizens.. . . If it hap-pens to feel like trying to fly where humans cannot fly, — to sing what cannot be sung, —to walk in a cave, on all fours, —or to ] tighten up its girth in blind hope and faith, and try to scale mountains that are not —Who shall stop it!—In short, must a song al-ways be a song!” [from the Postface to the 114 Songs).
man year at Yale, is an exuberant parody of small-town brass-band music. (Later, within the larger framework of the 114 Songs, Ives grouped some of his songs by category; The Circus Band is the fifth of „5 Street Songs and Pieces.”) Though tonally and harmonically tame, the difficult piano part contains tone clusters and touches of ragtime syncopations that foreshadow the later works. The first section of Memories, marked „Very Pleasant,” and to be sung „As fast as it will go,” recalls the excitement of a youth at the opera house; following the word „Curtain!” we hear the second section, marked „Rather Sad”—a poignant tune „my Uncie hummed from early morn shuffling down to the barn or to the town.” The well-known popular melodies and hymns quoted in The Things Our Fathers Loved (subtitled And the Greatest of These Was Liberty) fleetingly evoke a time and place of long ago; but in the stream-of-consciousness fabric woven from the fragments of Dixie My Old Kentucky Home NettJeton, The Battle Cry of Freedom, and The Sweet Bye and Bye, the composer’s more advanced techniques add a sharp bitter-sweetness to the reminiscence.
Just as Ives drew freely on the music of others as source material for his songs, he also drew upon his own efforts in other musical genres, re-using earlier solutions to the problem of ex-pressing in music particular ideas and moods. In 1905 he wrote an instrumental work incorporating one of his favorite hymns, Robert Lowry’s Beautiful River; in 1907 he included that work in the third movement of the Fourth Violin Sonata; then in 1916 he took the final 25 measures of the violin line, adapted it for voice, and changed the piano part slightly. The song At the River—in the 114 Songs, the second of „4 Songs Based on Hymntune Themes” — retains the violin’s acclamations at the end of the first stanza (now endowed with the words, „Gather at the river!”) and the sonata’s final, questioning motifs („Shall we gather? shall we gather at the river?”). The Cage, probably written in 1906, was ar-ranged from the instrumental piece In the Cage, composed a few months earlier. Its „atonal,” deliberately colorless musical atmosphere conveys a vision of futility perceived by a small boy as he watches a leopard pacing in its cage. The singer’s line, consist-ing of one long phrase, moves mostly in whole-tones in a monotonous rhythm, interrupted only by angry chords hurled out by the piano.
From „Paracelsus”, derived from the orchestral Browning Overture of 1911, explores the relationship of man to God; the text is drawn from Robert Browning’s play Paracelsus. A clue to the song’s dense and complicated texture is provided by Ives’s comment written on the manuscript of the overture: „Browning was too big a man to rest in one nice little key.. . his mind had many roads, not always easy to follow.” Thoreau (1915), Ives’s supreme hymn to nature, stems from the third movement of his Second Piano Sonata („Concord, Mass., 1840-1860”) (1909-15). An unusually subdued and reflective song, with echoes of Stephen Foster’s Massa’s in de Cald Ground and cadences that seem to evaporate in mid-air, this one-page musical sketch of Thoreau is set to a text from Walden (used in the spoken introduction), with a few lines added by Ives.
Another contemplative song, The Innate of 1916, is an arrangement— for voice, with piano or organ — from a string-quartet movement written earlier that year. Although The Innate appears in the 114 Songs, Ives published it, in the slightly revised form heard here, in his Nineteen Songs of 1935. Serenity (subtitled „a unison chant”), a setting of two stanzas from John Green-leaf Whittier’s poem The Brewing of Soma, may have been based on a lost choral work. Ives’s extraordinary control over the song’s minimal musical material —quiet, repeated chords in the piano part, and a vocal line of utmost simplicity — produces a trance-like mood.
In 1920, Ives completed a long essay, The Majority, expressing his concern for „the common man.” After distilling the essay into a poem, he cast his ideas in a monumental setting for chorus and orchestra that incorporates speech-song, massive chord structures, complex rhythms, and biting dissonances. Ives presented Majority, arranged for solo voice and piano, as the opening song of the 114 Songs, with this caveat: „Preferably for a unison chorus; it is almost impossible for a single voice to hold the part against the score.” Like a Sick Eagle, stemming from a 1909 com-position for English horn, flute, piano, and strings, has the voice portray the sick bird’s dizzying flight by imitating the plaintive timbre of the deep, double-reed horn while sliding in quarter-tones in the manner of a violin to create a remarkable, haunting effect. The heroic bird of Keats’s poem becomes a symbol for mortality and death: on an early sketch for the song we find Ives’s
The Housatonic at Stockbridge, an arrangement of the third movement of the orchestral work Three Places in New England, exemplifies Ives’s genius for translating visual concepts into mu¬sical terms. Very different, but just as vivid, is Ann Street—an amusing pictorialization of a place. Ives, in a humorous mood, takes as his text a poem printed in the New York Herald describing the little street near the Ives & Myrick insurance office. No key signature or time indications are given in the score, but the simple chords, unexpected rhythmic changes, and short phrases com¬bine to mirror the character of this bustling spot in downtown New York.
In the early A Christmas Carol (1897), the composer’s words and child-like tune, touching in their simplicity, are colored by gentle, Ivesian syncopations. Quite at the other end of Ives’s broad compositional spectrum, A Farewell to Land conveys its text in one single phrase. This daringly conceived work, completed in 1925, is shaped by the singer’s traversal of the entire vocal range, accompanied by accelerations and brakings of the’ tempo. In the Mornin’ is, according to the printed score, a „Negro spiritual (before 1850) communicated to Ives in 1929 by Mary Evelyn Stiles. Accompaniment by Charles E. Ives.” His last effort with a song, it represents Ives’s deep respect for one of the major inspirations for his art —the music of everyday life. VIVIAN PERL1S
Jan DeGaetani, born in Ohio, is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, where she studied with Sergius Kagen. She has been internationally acclaimed for her presentation of contemporary works (many of them written especially f or her), and is also noted for her work in early music. Miss DeGaetani has performed in oratorio, opera, and chamber music, in concert and on radio and television, throughout the United States, Europe, and the Far East. Since 1971, she has taught at the Aspen Music School, and in 1973 joined the faculty of the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, as Professor of Voice. Miss DeGaetani has recorded for Decca, CRI, Music Guild, Vanguard, Vox, Acoustic Research, Columbia Records. and Nonesuch.
Gilbert Kalish, born in New York, studied piano with Leonard Shure, Isabella Vengerova, and Julius Hereford, and is a graduate of Columbia University. An outstanding performer of new music (he has been the pianist for the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble since its establishment in 1960), Mr. Kalish is also noted for his work in 18th- and 19th-century piano literature. He appears regularly with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and has been heard frequently as soloist throughout the United States and Europe. Mr. Kalish is head of Keyboard Activities at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, and he is an Artist-in-Residence at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He has recorded for Columbia, CRI, Desto, Folkways, Acoustic Research, and Nonesuch.
The 114 Songs by Charles E. Ives is available in a one-volume edition published collaboratively by Associated Music Publishers, Inc., Peer International Corporation (sole selling agent), and Theodore Presser Company.