About this Recording
8.570559 - IVES: Variations on America / Old Home Days / The Alcotts
English 

Charles Edward Ives (1874–1954)
Variations on 'America'

 

Introduction

Charles Edward Ives, like his elder contemporary John Philip Sousa, was born and raised amid military quicksteps and medleys of patriotic songs: Sousa's father was a trombonist with the U.S. Marine Band in Washington, D.C., and Ives's father led the Danbury Cornet Band in Danbury, Connecticut. Both Ives and Sousa took readily to musical instruction even as boys and became skilled professionals in their early teens — Ives an organist and choirmaster, Sousa a violinist and conductor. Ives shared Sousa's much-publicized enthusiasm for athletics along with his keenness for literature and writing. Both became determined, energetic New Yorkers who found some of their best writing time on the train, Sousa in his private car as he crisscrossed the nation with his band and Ives during the longish summer commutes from his place in Connecticut to his insurance offices in lower Manhattan. Further, Ives shared Sousa's love of family and country, and his faith in the divinity of art and nature. Each became transparently the founder and monitor of his own myth and legend. And Sousa was unquestionably among the many musical influences upon the young Ives's developing talents.

In Ives's experience, American music began with the homespun excitement of parades, picnics, parlor concerts, gospel camp meetings, and the "opera house" he knew as listener and participant during his growing up in Danbury, by then an industrially prosperous town. Then as a nineteen-year-old he attended, along with his uncle Lyman Brewster, the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, where Sousa's band and his newest march, The Liberty Bell, had become the rage of the season. Music was up-to-the-minute: on the highbrow side Ives heard the French virtuoso Guilmant play the newest-styled organ music on the state-of-the-art Farrand & Votey that crowned Festival Hall, while at the lowbrow end he heard the Midway's clangor of mechanical instruments and likely some of the down-river "professors" of syncopation that the fair drew like a magnet to the nearby beer-halls. What a rich body of musical experience for Ives to bring to his next phase of musical exploration! Prep school and college in New Haven meant not only rigorous musical study at Yale and a congenial organ loft at nearby Center Church but also the beer-halls and theaters with pianists and pit bands featuring the newly-named "ragtime," nights of collegiate rough-and-tumble, and fraternity shows. New York, though it meant "business, both feet," included opera at the Met, orchestral concerts at Carnegie Hall, the by-now pervasive ragtime, and — until he resigned — another congenial (and prestigious) church job. Then came his idyllic courtship of Harmony Twichell, gradually some musical admirers, and finally performers and publishers. In fact, it was not long after Sousa had achieved ambassadorial status as March King that Ives gave up professional music so that his future family would not "starve on his dissonances". (When one writer asked whether the demands of business and music on his attention had conflicted, he replied simply that one helped the other — that "life weaves itself whole". The conflict for Ives had been more nearly between his professional music and his "real" music.

As artists, both Ives and Sousa — true to their shared birthright as Bandsmen — composed and adapted marches, variations, fantasies, humoresques, overtures, and descriptive music. Yet as Ives began to intensify his far-reaching search into the possibilities of organ music, marches, and ragtime, Sousa held steadfastly to the regularity of America's military pulse, which, except for his publicly eschewing ragtime, he read accurately for his entire career. It was quite on his own, then, that Ives began to blaze the trail toward a music not for America, like Sousa's, but about America, a uniquely American music about American music as he heard it. Even so, despite such distinctions, both Ives and Sousa, like their musical forebear Stephen Foster, excelled as lyric composers in the popular Scottish-Irish tradition, and, like Foster, both have left extensive collections of songs distinguished for their sheer variety of literary, musical, and dramatic content. To my mind, likenesses of this kind argue for granting Ives the deserving place in the American band pantheon customarily reserved in his time for the stellar professional.

All the works in this gathering of Ives compositions for band are to one degree or another adaptations for the modern American concert band, its instrumentation and current instruments. (Note 1) Without splitting hairs between "adaptation," "arrangement," "edition," and "transcription" (or between "concert band," "symphonic band," and "wind ensemble"), the main thing is that any adaptation, edition, etc., fulfill or exceed on its own terms the musical values of its source. Accordingly, each attribution is cited in the following notes as it is phrased on the published or manuscript score used in the present recording. The letter "S" and its following numeral designate the source's entry number in James B. Sinclair's Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives (Note 2) (e.g., S140 for Variations on 'America'). Tunes quoted in Ives's work may be pursued through Clayton W. Henderson's Charles Ives Tunebook (Note 3) and in such works as James J. Fuld's painstakingly researched Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular and Folk. (Note 4) Texts to Ives's songs may be found in their standard editions, and helpful explanatory notes are printed on most published scores of the works included here. Because of the great interest in Ives not only among Americanists but also among general readers, the Ives shelf has become extensive. To listeners who would first explore beyond these notes, I would recommend Stuart Feder's The Life of Charles Ives (Cambridge, England: 1999), Vivian Perlis's Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History (New Haven: 1971, reprint Urbana: 2002), and Howard Boatwright's edition of Ives's incomparable Essays Before a Sonata (New York: 1961, and since). For the confirmed band enthusiast might I suggest the present writer's Charles Ives and the American Band Tradition: A Centennial Tribute (Exeter, England: 1974).

 

Prologue

[Track 1] Variations on 'America':
Transcribed by William E. Rhoads from William Schuman's orchestration of E. Power Biggs's edition of Ives's variations for organ, S140 (Merion Music)

This remarkable set, composed when he was about eighteen, Ives later described as "but a boy's work, partly serious and partly in fun." These variations serve, however, as perhaps the most comprehensive illustration of Ives's youthful sweep of style. After a snappy figural variation, we hear a sinuous barbershop setting, a jaunty European cavalry march, a "midway" polonaise, and a scherzo. As importantly, the set shows his already prodigious ability as a soloist: note, for instance, the pedal passages in the requisitely virtuosic finale—in which is heard too the telltale cross-rhythm of the new ragtime. In this performance, the two bitonal interludes that Ives committed to notation a decade later are revoiced to correspond to the contrasting "shadow" dynamics indicated in E. Power Biggs's 1949 edition for organ.

 

Battle Cries of Freedom

[2] Overture and March '1776':
Transcribed by James B. Sinclair from the score-sketch for theater orchestra, S24 (Merion Music)

Ives composed this overture to begin his never-realized opera on his uncle Lyman Brewster's verse play Major John Andre (a British soldier hanged by the Revolutionists for his complicity with Benedict Arnold). By now in his 29th year and at last free from the strictures of professional music, one of Ives's basic tenets had become the equation of dissonance with physical, intellectual, and moral toughness — national as well as individual. Unconstrained, he lets loose a barrage of patriotic songs from both sides of the struggle (though a few, like the Star Spangled Banner fragment signalling the final "Fourth of July" rocket, are anachronistic). The idea of conflict is intensified further by some ear-stretching "band stuff"—like the mixed-up cornet shanks in B-flat and A, and the methodical skewing of the martial beat. Some years later, Ives would combine '1776' with 'Country Band' March (Track 15) to form the fantasia Putnam's Camp in his orchestral set Three Places in New England.

[3] They Are There! (A War Song March):
Transcribed [with optional quasi-unison mixed chorus] by James B. Sinclair from Lou Harrison's orchestration based on Ives's orchestral sketch for the song He Is There!, S188 (Peer International)

Ives was enraged at the news of the Kaiser's "hog march" through Belgium in August 1914. On the war's subsequent course of events — the sinking of the Lusitania, America's heroic joining of the Allied forces, and the tragic failure of the League of Nations — he brought to bear some of his most deeply searching verse, political commentary, civic action, and of course music. When the World War II embarcation parades of European-bound U.S. soldiers seemed a repeat of all-too-recent history, he reworked the lyric of his World War I marchin g song ("beating up Hitler instead of the Kaiser," he wrote in 1944 to the conductor Lehman Engel). Since Ives likened our military expeditions to help liberate Europe to our home-fought wars for freedom, this marching song is a snappily ragged wake-up coalition of patriotic music. Among others, one hears 'Battle Cry of Freedom', 'Dixie', 'La Marseillaise', 'Maryland, My Maryland', 'Yankee Doodle', and, perhaps as a kind of personal signature, Ives's 'Country Band' tune. Ives's text is best heard from his own voice while accompanying himself at the piano on his 1943 private recording, reproduced on Ives Plays Ives, CRI CD 810 / New World Records 80642, Tracks 38–40; his tempo there is the fast quickstep time taken in this performance.

 

Town and Gown

[4] -[8] Old Home Days: Suite for Band:
[Selected and] arranged by Jonathan Elkus (Peer International)

[4] Waltz, from Ives's song, S385. Composed in the mid-1890s, the beginning and ending of this Bowery-style waltz quote Michael Nolan's popular tune 'Little Annie Rooney'. Ives's own verses imagine Annie, now a bride, and her festive wedding party at "the old dance ground."

[5] The Opera House is the first part of Ives's song 'Memories', S297; Ives describes a youngster's breathless expectancy as the pit band strikes up the overture. But just as the curtain rises, a drum roll-off takes us outside again to "march along down Main Street, behind the village band," amid the ringing of church and schoolhouse bells. Old Home Day, S315, is the nostalgic title of Ives's march-song, whose end is the beginning of "everybody's Alma Mater." The fife-like overlay played through the repeat is patchwork that includes 'The Girl I Left Behind Me', 'Garryowen', and 'Auld Lang Syne'.

[6] The Collection, S230, references a church offering. Ives's setting of George Kingsley's hymn-tune 'Tappan' represents first "The Organist," then "The Soprano," and lastly the "Response by Village Choir."

[7] Slow March, S349, is the earliest surviving of Ives's songs. It was composed when Ives was perhaps fourteen, and — to a simple verse by his Uncle Lyman — was occasioned by the backyard burial of a family pet. Inscribed "To the Children's Faithful Friend," the music opens and closes with a quotation from the Dead March in Handel's oratorio, Saul.

[8] London Bridge Is Fallen Down! is a tonal and rhythmic take-off on the familiar tune, which we may imagine to be typical of the young Ives's unruly keyboard improvisations. This arrangement is based on Kenneth Singleton's realization for brass quintet of Ives's sketches for organ or piano, S428, which date from about 1891.

 

[9] March Intercollegiate:
Edited [for modern concert band] by Keith Brion from holograph sources and photostat copies of sixteen printed parts, S54 (Associated Music Publishers)

According to the Sinclair Catalogue, the first documented performance took place in Washington, D.C., on 4 March 1897, by the combined New Haven Band and the Washington Marine Band [U.S. Marine Band] as part of the activities of the presidential inauguration of William McKinley. Here "everybody's Alma Mater" is the featured tune, a robust setting of the sentimental 1857 part-song 'Annie Lisle' — the "intercollegiate" tune that quickly made the rounds following Cornell's adoption of it as "Far above Cayuga's waters" in 1872. Probably dating from 1892 in its original state (for the Danbury Band at the Fair Grounds, according to a memo left by Ives), Intercollegiate follows one of the older quickstep schemes of a sixteen-measure trio followed by a da capo.

[10] Fugue in C:
Transcribed by James B. Sinclair from the first movement (Chorale) of the First String Quartet, S57i (Peer International)

With Lowell Mason's 'Missionary Hymn' ("From Greenland's icy mountains") as its subject, this four-voice fugue shows the organ-like capability of the band to its best advantage. We hear the most striking example, perhaps, in the cumulative, climactic ending coincidentally reminiscent of Ives's contemporary and fellow organist Gustav Holst, followed by its fadeout "Amen" close, an endplay that would become the mature Ives's almost predictable signature. Ives often recycled his music: The original organ fugue, composed as a Yale course assignment for Horatio Parker (another esteemed organist) and — we must presume — for Ives's own use at Center Church, was adapted into his First Quartet and thence, further recomposed, into his Fourth Symphony.

[11] March: 'Omega Lambda Chi':
Edited and arranged [for modern concert band] by Keith Brion from the holograph full score and five ink parts, S53 (Associated Music Publishers)

Modeled on Sousa's The Liberty Bell, this march led the 1896 spring parade of the fictitious fraternity 'Omega Lambda Chi,' a yearly ruse intended to dupe the Yale freshmen into treating upperclassmen "members" to drinks and cigars. The tune of the fictitious fraternity's bogus song is 'Sailing, Sailing', first published in 1880 — remarkably the very year the Yale faculty had abolished the real freshman fraternities. Ives's instrumentation is for a few upper reeds, a dozen brass, and percussion. It is not known how many players were on each part, or whether the march was played by students, local professionals, or both.

[12] Variations on 'Jerusalem the Golden':
Edited and arranged by Keith Brion for concert band and a brass band of old fashioned instruments (or modern brass sextet or quintet), S52 (Associated Music Publishers)

Keith Brion's speculative reconstruction of this set is thoroughly in keeping with the concerto grosso, or ritornello, scheme of the countless solo and ensemble fantasies that enlivened band concerts of the day. Accordingly, this performance features a sextet of the older, small-bore brass instruments alternating with the full, modern concert band. Brion's source is an ink copy made by Ives's father of a sketch composed during Charlie's early teens that is quite possibly the "Fantasia (or Paraphrase) on 'Jerusalem the Golden'" that Ives includes under the "Brass Band" heading of a later work-list.

[13] A Son of a Gambolier:
Transcribed by Jonathan Elkus from the song, S353 (Peer International)

A gambolier may be described as a wandring wastrel — or as an oft-sung college song has it, a "rambling wreck." One of Ives's "marches with college tunes in the trio [layered] against the original theme," this one from the mid-1890s (or later) is easily his most intricately woven. Although Ives in his 114 Songs describes both 'Gambolier' and 'The Circus Band' (Track 18) as "brass-band marches," there survive not even fragmentary sources. This transcription was made for performances by Keith Wilson and the Yale Band on their first European tour in 1961.

[14] Postlude in F:
Transcribed by Kenneth Singleton from his Ives Society critical edition of Ives's orchestral score, S41 (Associated Music Publishers)

A lost organ work that he had composed and played in Danbury in his mid-teens survives as an orchestration assignment for Professor Parker. If Parker indeed held a reading with the New Haven Orchestra (as noted in Ives's later memorandum) it would have been one of the few opportunities that Ives ever had to hear a work of his played by a large symphonic complement. Interestingly, a strong French element is already heard in this work, which owes much in its chromatic palette to the church and Sunday parlor adaptations of Saint-Saëns and Massenet.

 

"Band Stuff"

[15] 'Country Band' March:
Transcribed by James B. Sinclair from the score-sketch for theater orchestra, S36, and Putnam's Camp, S7ii (Merion Music)

This free-for-all collage of children's tunes, country fiddling, patriotic songs, and two Sousa march allusions (Semper Fidelis and Washington Post) was composed first for theater orchestra and later expanded, along with Overture and March '1776' (Track 2), to form Putnam's Camp, the central movement of Ives's orchestral set Three Places in New England. Composed no earlier than 1905, 'Country Band' recalls the blatant band shenanigans embodied in its sister piece '1776,' and at the same time points ahead to the frenetic ragtime episodes in Charlie Rutlage and Runaway Horse (Tracks 17 and 19). Clearly defined throughout Sinclair's virtuosic transcription is Ives's use of ragtime to poke infinite fun at the band's late entrances, bad cut-offs, delayed patter, and general miscounting — often accentuating the major-minor (and other) clashes unleashed by unheeded key signatures. If one had to classify 'Country Band' in traditional terms, it would be what Sousa and his contemporaries often dubbed a "humoresque" or "musical joke" — a grandchild, really, of Mozart's sextet subtitled The Village Musicians, K. 522.

[16] Decoration Day:
Transcribed for concert band by Jonathan Elkus from copyist's full score, S5ii (Peer International)

Decoration Day (named for the national commemoration now called Memorial Day) is the second ("spring") movement of Ives's symphony Four New England Holidays. According to Ives's description, the movement begins early in the morning with the gathering of flowers, amid "a shadow, perhaps, of the fanatical harshness, reflecting old Abolitionist days". To distant bell ringing, a lone train whistle and birds chirping, the Village Cornet Band playing the dirge 'Adeste Fidelis' leads everyone to Wooster Cemetery — "a thing a boy never forgets. … After the last grave is decorated, Taps sounds out through the pines and hickories while a last hymn is sung. Then we 'all march back to town' to a Yankee stimulant — Reeves's inspiring Second Regiment Quickstep — though to many a soldier, the somber thoughts of the day underlie the tunes of the band. The march stops — and in the silence, the shadow of the early morning flower-song rises over the Town, and the sunset behind West Mountain breathes its benediction on the Day." Ives's father, George Ives, a Civil War bandmaster and veteran, would have been at the head of the band on these occasions during Charlie's growing up, and the ritual sounding of Taps may well be in memoriam to him.

 

Horseplay

[17] Charlie Rutlage:
Transcribed by James B. Sinclair from Kenneth Singleton's Ives Society edition of the chamber orchestration, S14iii (Associated Music Publishers)

Ives was fond of transforming his own songs for voice and piano into instrumental works or accompaniments—as he was equally fond of deriving songs from his instrumental works. Hence, the double life of 'Charlie Rutlage', Ives's intensely dramatic setting of a cowboy ballad collected by John A. Lomax. The ballad begins as a simple eulogy to the cowpuncher Charlie, proceeds with growing fervency to tell of his being crushed by his falling horse on spring roundup and concludes with the hope that Charlie will meet his loved ones and parents "face to face … at the shining throne of grace". Ives had intended his vocal-instrumental version of 'Charlie Rutlage' for inclusion in a set to be named The Other Side of Pioneering, or Side Lights on American Enterprise.

[18] The Circus Band:
Transcribed for band by Jonathan Elkus from George F. Roberts's orchestration, with [optional] mixed chorus, of Ives's song, S33, Version 3 (Peer International)

Composed as a march possibly as early as 1894 but worked over several times in the next forty years, Ives's verses to this thoroughbred quickstep's printing in his 114 Songs are at once witty and wistful:

All summer long, we boys dreamed 'bout big circus joys!
Down Main Street, comes the band, Oh!
          "Ain't it a grand and a glorious noise!" [Repeat]
Horses are prancing, Knights advancing;
Helmets gleaming, Pennants streaming,
Cleopatra's on her throne! That golden hair is all her own. [Repeat] [Tri]
Where is the lady all in pink? Last year she waved to me I think,
Can she have died? Can! that! rot! She is passing but she sees me not.
          [Last time patchwork-overlay of college songs from Version 3:]
Riding down from Bangor on the midnight train,
Rip, slam, bang we go, Sir, right on thro' the rain,
I had a horse we'd called Napoleon,
All on account of his "Bony parts."
When in after years we take our children on our knee,
We'll teach them that the alphabet begins with D.K.E.

 

[19] Runaway Horse on Main Street:
Reconstructed and edited by James B. Sinclair from Ives's incomplete score for band, S55 (Associated Music Publishers)

Contemporaneous with 'Country Band' March, this is one of Ives's workings out of newly discovered rhythmic and pitch patterns—and here again, a take-off on the ragtime that Ives as a young man heard all around him in New York. It all starts calmly enough as the buggy driver stops to let off a friend and then tries vainly to control his horse's unruly startup. One can imagine a row of beer-hall doors opening and letting loose the jarring ragtime of a dozen pianists, while the wobbly patrons collect on the sidewalk and try to curb the runaway horse (and its buggy). The middle part is from Ives's surviving pages of band score; the "drawled" solo trumpet opening ("So long, Harris …") is adapted from Ives's derivative song, and the editor's coda patch is from Charlie Rutlage (Track 17).

[20] March No. 6, with 'Here's to Good Old Yale':
Freely adapted for the U.S. Marine Band by Jonathan Elkus, a conflation of Ives's March No. 6 in G and D for Piano Versions 2 and 3, and his recorded version on Ives Plays Ives (CRI CD 810 / New World Records 80642, Track 41), S113 and x643 (Peer International)

Modeled in part after Sousa's march-galop Manhattan Beach, Ives's March No. 6 made its band debut in the marching arrangement by James B. Sinclair (Peer International, © 1977 and 1979). In the present adaptation for concert band, Ives's cantus-discantus treatment of Here's to Good Old Yale —perhaps better known as Bingo —is introduced in the second strain, while the trio overlays the Battell Chapel chimes (borrowed from Ives's choral song The Bells of Yale) and, in the subsequent countermelody, the first trio phrase of Omega Lambda Chi. The adaptation carries over some left-hand "piano drumming," the bugler's tag, and the Yale Bulldog's trilled snarls from Ives's spirited rendition, which, curiously, does not include the Yale song itself.

 

Epilogue

[21] 'The Alcotts':
Transcribed for the U.S. Marine Band by Jonathan Elkus from Ives's 1940–47 revision of the Concord Sonata, S33 (Associated Music Publishers)

'The Alcotts' is the subject of one of Ives's Essays Before a Sonata, which he published concurrently with the Concord Sonata in 1920. In the essay, Ives takes us inside the elm-shaded Orchard House where "sits the old spinet piano Sophia Thoreau gave to the Alcott children, on which Beth played the old Scotch airs, and played at Beethoven's Fifth Symphony". Warming as always to such a scene of home music-making, he continues: "All around you, under the Concord sky there still floats … that human faith melody reflecting an innate hope, a common interest in common men, a tune that the Concord bards are ever playing while they pound away at the immensities with a Beethoven-like sublimity, and with vengeance and perseverance."

Jonathan Elkus
Director of Bands, Emeritus
University of California, Davis

 

Notes:

(1) Transcriptions for band of the fourth and fifth movements (Lento maestoso and Finale) of Ives's Second Symphony are included on "The President's Own" United States Marine Band's CD Symphonies of Wind Instruments, USMB-CD-17, 2001.

(2) New Haven: Yale University Press, © 1999; some of Ives's commentaries quoted below are drawn from here.

(3) Warren, Mich.: Harmonie Park Press (for the College Music Society), 1990.

(4) Fourth Edition, New York: Dover Publications, © 1995.

 


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