About this Recording
8.559272 - IVES, C.: Songs, Vol. 4

Charles Ives (1874-1954)
Songs • 4


When, in 1922, Charles Ives published a volume entitled 114 Songs, he was indirectly drawing attention to the fact that the genre had played a central part in his output. 85 years on and, for all that his wider reputation rests on his orchestral, chamber and piano music, the songs still represent the heart of his creative thinking. Nor was that initial volume comprehensive; Ives having written almost 200 songs, of which this present edition includes all of those he completed. The expressive variety encountered is accordingly vast: indeed, the gradual evolution of Ives’s songwriting, from those which draw overtly on the Austro-German Lieder and English parlour-song tradition to ones that evince anarchic humour as keenly as others do profound vision, is analogous to the evolution of American music over the last quarter of the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth centuries.

Although it would be possible to collate Ives’s songs according to type, the alphabetic approach adopted by this edition ensures each volume (of which this disc is the fourth) offers a representative cross-section of his achievement. A wide range of poets is set, including a number of (mainly early) German settings as well as forays into French and Italian writers. The temporal distance (1887-1926) traversed by these songs is as little compared to their stylistic diversity or emotional range.

The extent to which Ives reworked songs throughout his career is considerable, whether substituting a text or reworking the actual music. To this end, songs with a musical or textual connection are crosslinked accordingly (i.e. in brackets at the end of the relevant paragraph).

Majority (1921) ranks among Ives’s most uncompromising statements of belief; its Utopian sentiments (his own words) as to the potential unleashed when the human Masses strive to act as one are expressed in a fearlessly rhetorical vocal line, with a piano part ranging from the starkest of common chords to the most densely elaborate clusters.

Maple Leaves (1920) sets lines by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, its limpidity offset by the teasing gesture that points up the ‘moral’ of the close.

To a poem by Rudolf Gottschall, Marie (1896) is among the most unaffected of Ives’s German songs, voice and piano in poised accord (see also below, track 4).

While not superior, the English version of Marie (1901, translated by Elisabeth Rücker) does open-out the song’s overall expressive range (see also above, track 3).

Among the earliest instances of Ives’s penchant for contrast, Memories (1897) consists of two separate impressions set to his own words. ‘Very Pleasant’ evokes a breathless expectancy waiting for the curtain to rise at the opera-house: a coup-de-théâtre in the piano leading to the second impression, ‘Rather Sad’, which evokes the composer’s uncle humming a wistful ditty as he shuffles about his business, and which features one of the young Ives’s most poignant melodies.

A mid-Romantic perspective on minstrelsy, Minnelied (1901) sets verse by Ludwig H. C. Hölty (revised by J. H. Voss) in a warmly expressive if impersonal manner (see also below, track 16).

To a poem by Christina Rossetti, Mirage (1902) tells of false hope and heartbreak, subtly underscored by Ives (see also Volume 3, track 3, Naxos 8.559271).

Setting a poem on transience and memory by the composer’s wife, Harmony Twichell Ives, Mists (1910 - two earlier and incomplete versions have been excluded here) comes from the earlier years of Ives’s marriage and is among his most intimate expressions of feeling.

One of several songs set in German and English, My Dear Old Mother (1902) brings a keen nobility to Aasmund Olafsson Vinje’s sentimental text of filial devotion, though less so in the heavy-handed translation by Frederick Corder (see also Volume 2, track 5, Naxos 8.559270, and below, track 26).

To an anonymous text, My Lou Jennine (1894) is among Ives’s earliest songs, witness its over-wrought vocal line and overly busy piano part.

From a translation by Eduard Lassen, Ives made his own adaptation of Heinrich Heine’s My Native Land (1900), which exists in two versions. The first has a prelude that sets the scene for the poem’s fervent expressions of homesickness and fond memory (see also below, track 13).

The second version goes straight into the text and dispenses with its second verse, making for a greater self-containment (see also above, track 12).

Ives earlier set My Native Land (1897) to a near-identical translation, and this setting broadly corresponds both in its length and overall expression with the first version of his later setting (see also above, tracks 12 and 13).

Adapted from an earlier German song, here set to Ives’s own verse, Nature’s Way (1909) is a calm but eloquent evocation of nature’s beneficent influence on the human race (see also above, track 8).

The earlier of two ‘arias’ incorporated into his sacred cantata The Celestial Country, Ives’s setting of Henry Alford’s Naught That Country Needeth (1898) builds up a considerable emotional power through its reiteration of the text’s salient phrases (see also Volume 2, track 18, Naxos 8.559270).

Set to his own lines on the despoiling of the natural environment, The New River (1921) is Ives at his most combative and also provocative.

A setting of George Meredith, Night of Frost in May (1899) is a modest though attractive song that eschews any deeper resonance within its text (see also Volume 3, track 9, Naxos 8.559271, and Volume 6, track 12, Naxos 8.559274).

Ives’s deft and urbane setting of Thomas Moore’s A Night Song (1895) is among his most fetching early songs (see also Volume 2, track 13, Naxos 8.559270).

Another setting of Thomas Moore, the unassuming reticence of A Night Thought (1916) might be thought backward-looking had it not been adapted from an earlier song (see also Volume 3, track 19, Naxos 8.559271).

To a poem by William Winter, No More (1897) risks seeming a typical drawing-room song of its era, but Ives’s varying of mood across verses ensures its emotion is never cloying (see also Volume 3, track 8, Naxos 8.559271).

Set to his own words, Nov. 2, 1920 (An Election) (1921) is described by Ives as the “Soliloquy of an old man whose son lies in ‘Flanders Fields’”, and expounds his indignation that said election was a blow for the ideals that motivated the United States during the First World War.

A very different song to his own text, An Old Flame (1898) is a true ‘sentimental romance’ such as Ives keeps within bounds through the elegance of its vocal writing and poise of the piano accompaniment.

Ives at his most inimitable, Old Home Day (1920) has an other-worldly prelude, then a sequence of two verses with chorus brings childhood memories vividly to life, and with an obbligato contribution from flute during the second chorus. The text is by Ives, though with an epigraph from Virgil: “Draw home from the city, my songs, draw Daphnis home”.

An earlier setting of Aasmund Vinje’s eulogy, The Old Mother (1898) finds Ives making several changes to Frederick Corder’s translation that improve the text as sung (see also Volume 2, track 5, Naxos 8.559270, and above, track 11).

A further setting of an Owen Meredith poem, Omens and Oracles (1902) impulsively considers the quandary over whether to declare one’s true feelings, with voice and piano locked in expressive accord.

With its coursing vocal line (the melody related to the main theme in the first movement of Ives’s First Symphony) and excitable piano part, On Judges’ Walk (1901) sets Arthur Symons’ poem with appreciation of its often gothic nocturnal imagery (see also Volume 5, track 17, Naxos 8.559273).

One of Ives’s last songs, On the Antipodes (1923) is among the most extreme with its largely declaimed vocal line and frequent recourse to cluster chords in a piano part requiring two players. The composer’s text is a series of epigrams on the essence of Nature, and the music draws on material for his never-to-be-completed Universe Symphony.

On the Counter (1920) is both a recreation of the ‘parlour songs’ from Ives’s youth and (as set to his owntext) their ironic critique. The piano postlude hints at Auld Lang Syne, while a footnote expresses the hope “that this song will not be taken seriously, or sung - at least in public”.

Another self-penned sarcasm from Ives’s later years, The One Way (1923) fires broadsides at the second-hand nature of what passes for ‘serious music’: hence its inscription ‘The True Philosophy of all Nice Conservatories of Music and Nice “MUS. DOC’S”, “IMBCDGODAMLILY”’.

With its whimsical poem by Rudyard Kipling, The Only Son (1898) is among the most resourceful of Ives’ earlier songs, not least for the tonal ambiguity of its piano writing (see also Volume 3, track 1, Naxos 8.559271).

Set to an English text by Harmony Twichell (later Mrs Ives), Over all the Treetops (1903) utilises the warmly restrained music found in Ives’s setting of Goethe’s Ilmenau (see also Volume 3, track 14, Naxos 8.559271).

Richard Whitehouse


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