Friday, January 1, 2016

Charles Ives's Symphony No. 4 at c. 100 / Elizabeth Agnew

While the final page of Charles Ives's Symphony No. 4 is dated 1916, it was likely written between 1910 and the mid-1920's, with II. Comedy, perhaps finished as late as 1924.

The work is scored for

2 Piccolos
3 Flutes
2 Oboes (IV.)
3 Clarinets
Alto / Tenor /Baritone Saxophone
3 Bassoons

6 Trumpets
2 Cornets
4 Horns (III. op. solo and IV.)
3 Trombones

Chorus SATB (I. and IV.

Piano 4-Hands
Ether Organ (most probably Leon Theremin's Keyboard Harmonium)
2 Gongs (High/Low)
Snare Drum
Bass Drum

Violin I
Violin II

The Ives Symphony No. 4 is in four movements of drastically disimilar compositional history, duration, instrumentation, and spirit.

The origins of I. Prelude: Maestoso date to 1901, in a now-lost setting of Lowell Mason's

Watchman (1830;

the Advent / Epiphany hymn Watchman, Tell Us of the Night 1825, John Bowring, 1792-1872) for soprano and organ, sung in late November of that year by Annie Wilson (Mrs. Comstock) in a Y.M.C.A. service.  In the summer of 1905, at Saranac Lake, with his classmate (and future brother-in-law), David Twitchell, Ives started a variant of Watchman for horn and strings, also lost.  About a year later, he incoporated Watchman into  

Violin Sonata No. 1: III -- originally designated as No. 2, and ink-dated "Aug. Sept. 1907."

An orchestral version was finished in 1911 at Elk Lake in New York's Adirondack Mountains, which Ives notes in a memo of that year: "The 'Eternal Question' -- Watchman, what of the night? - Pell's, Sept. 4, 1911."

A further setting is found in114 Songs: 44. Watchman!, from 1914.

I. Prelude begins with a fortissimo maestoso bass line (D: Do Ra Mi Me Re Ra De), immediately followed by a military trumpet fanfare (D: Do Sol Do Mi Me) and an inversion of the opening two intervals in violins (Fa Mi Ra - also an important motive in Ives's Piano Sonata No. 1), leading to a pianissimo contrary chamber music of harp, two violins, and viola (E: Mi Re Do Re Mi),

alluding to Mason's Bethany (1856; Nearer, my God, to Thee, 1841;

Sarah Fuller Flower Adams, 1805-1848).

Various shreds of Watchman are suggested (D: Do Re Mi Re Mi Fa Sol), notably in solo cello (A: Do Re Mi Re Do Re Do), in a course identical to the

Joseph Philbrick Webster (1819-1875)

In the Sweet By and By

(1868; Sanford Fillmore Bennett, 1836-1898), before two mostly unison choral verses (Watchman, Tell Us of the Night, 1825; John Bowring, 1792-1872) unfold in slight rhythmic distortions over contrapuntal dreamlike orchestral waves.

Above, a flute takes phrases of the Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)  

Proprior Deo / Nearer to God (D: Mi Re Mi Do Sol La - itself close to Bethany's Mi Re Do Do La La), Thomas E. Perkins's Something for Thee,

the cadential phrase of I Hear Thy Welcome Voice by

Lewis Hartsough (1828-1919), and further strains of Bethany (the outline of M3 seemingy a through-line throughout)-- with Westminster Chimes (1793, Joseph Jowet, 1751-1813, possibly after measures 5-6 of I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" from G.F. Handel's Messiah) on the celesta.

Original Lyrics

Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.
Traveler, o'er yon mountain's height,
See that glory beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes – it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.

Watchman, tell us of the night;
Higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
Peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
Gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
See, it bursts o'er all the earth.

Watchman, tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight,
Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease;
Hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveler, lo! the Prince of Peace,
Lo! the Son of God is come!

Ives Version

Watchman, tell us of the night,
What the signs of promise are:
Traveller, o'er yon mountain's height,
See that Glory beaming star!
Watchman, ought [sic] of joy or hope

Traveler, yes – it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.
Dost thou see its beauteous ray?

Ives's "second verse" begins on the sixth line of the original, with the chorus breaking into brief four-part (1 female / 3 male) contrapuntal / homophonic texture at the repeated concluding line -- the assembly dying away in quadruple-pianissimo.

II. Comedy: Allegretto is inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne[1804-1864]'s

The Celestial Railroad (1843), itself a response to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progess (1678).  In Ives's projected list of Men of Literature Overtures, he included one on Hawthorne, which he sketched in 1910 at Elk Lake.  This was re-composed into Piano Sonata No. 2 ("Concord"): II. Hawthorne, dated April-October 1911.

The final phantasmagorical Hawthorne march is on the Thomas a'Beckett (1808-1890) Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, which -- while Ives also utilized in the Symphony No. 2 (1902) and A Symphony: New England Holidays: IV. Fourth of July (1913) -- here sounds as a precurser to its use in II. Comedy.  The movement is an orchestral expansion of Ives's piano solo, The Celestial Railroad (1924), and may thus be one of Ives's last orchestra works.  It is his most extreme endeavor in overlapping themes, along the lines of the Holidays: Fourth of July, but more complex in polymetrics and contrary musics.

The complexity of the work requires a second conductor, right from the introductory growls and invocation of hymns (some in quarter tones), which includes Watchman in violins.  George F. Root[1820-1895]'s Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! (The Prisoner's Hope, 1864) grows out of a bustling cacophony, only to subside again into a dreamy evocations of Watchman and The Sweet By and By, which alternate with the tramping madness and a suggestion of The Caisson Song (1908, Alfred C Montin (1880 - 1964), until combining surreally.

In the prison cell I sit,
Thinking Mother dear, of you,
And our bright and happy home so far away,
And the tears they fill my eyes
Spite of all that I can do,
Tho' I try to cheer my comrades and be gay.

Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up comrades they will come,
And beneath the starry flag
We shall breathe the air again,
Of the freeland in our own beloved home.

Over hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail
As the caissons go rolling along.
Up and down, in and out,
Countermarch and right about,
And our caissons go rolling along.
For it's hi-hi-hee in the Field Artillery,
Shout out the number loud and strong.
Till our final ride, It will always be our pride
To keep those caissons a rolling along.

Ragtime, Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, more distorted Watchman / Sweet fragments, and the anonymous/undated Reveille (some of this dating back to the earlier Hawthorne material), head towards a "Collapse," where one orchestral group in slow 3/2 initially sychronizes with another 4/4 entourage.  This latter ensemble then accelerates and collapses, waiting for the first posse to catch up and resynchronize.  Another quieter section "a take off here on polite salon music . . . pink teas in Vanity Fair social life" leads to still more Watchman / Sweet, building back up into another rag evocation.

Trumpets punch out the eighth notes of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (1808) first-movement motif, while trombones raucously intone Beulah Land 

(1875, John Robson Sweney, 1837-1899) and cornets belt out

Massa's in de Cold, Cold, Ground: Down in de Corn Field (1852, Stephen Foster, 1826-1864).

Another quiet section, on Jesus, Lover of my Soul (Martyn, 1834; Simeon Bulkley Marsh, 1798-1875) is violently interrupted by Beulah Land noise and shimmers, before returning to a larger Jesus, Lover passage, filligreed by quarter-tone piano. 

This is shattered again by the finale cacophony of Marching Through Georgia (1865, Henry Clay Work, 1832-1884), Ives's own Country Band March (1905, augmented in Three Places in New England: II. Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut, 1912),  

Ye Christian Heralds (1832, Heinrich Christoph [Charles] Zeuner, 1795-1857 -- its three-note opening corresponding to the Beethoven Fifth),

Yankee Doodle (1780), Turkey in the Straw, Long Long Ago, Reveille, The Irish Washerwoman, and more ragtime.  Aside from the spiritual comedy, this seems also World War I, in patriotism spiralling into madness, concluding with a fizzing away, again reminiscent of the Holidays: Fourth.

III. Fugue: Andante moderato con moto is an elaboration of a keyboard work Ives wrote at Yale for Horatio Parker (1863-1919),

on Mason's Missionary Hymn (1823; From Greenland's Icy Mountains, 1819, Reginald Heber, 1783-1826),

with one countersubject on Oliver Holden's Coronation (1765-1844;

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name, 1779, Edward Perronet, 1726-1792).  Scholastic in stretto, mirror, pedal-point, and augmentation -- it was re-composed for String Quartet No. 1 ("From the Salvation Army"): I. Andante con moto (1902).  In the orchestral version, first composed in 1909 at Elk Lake, the fugue ends with a brief interior-phrase quotation of Mason's Antioch (1839, derived from G.F. Handel motives from Messiah, 1741;  

Joy to the World. 1719, Isaac Watts, 1674-1748).  Ives characterized the work as "an expression of the reaction of life into formalism and ritualism."  Paradoxically, because of its juxtaposition with the other three complex section, Ives biographer Jan Swafford calls this "in a way the most revolutionary movement of all."

The composer characterized IV. Finale: Very slowly – Largo maestoso as "an apotheosis of the preceding content, in terms that have something to do with the reality of existence and its religious experience." The music dates back to 1901, when Ives was organist at New York's Central Presbyterian Church (then at Broadway and 57th) when he wrote the now-lost Memorial slow march on Mason's Bethany / Nearer, my God -- 'a slow, out-of-doors march . . . in part, the remembrance of the way the hymn sounded in some old Camp Meeting services . . . also had something to do with  . . . a scene one evening in Cafe Boulevard, New York, after [William] McKinley's assassination in [September] 1901; Everybody stood up and sang this hymn."  String Quartet No. 2: III ends with a mountain-top vision of Bethany and Westminster Chimes, an expanded D Major over descending whole-tone scales in cello.  The symphonic movement opens with a spatially separated percussion section that performs in a contrary tempo from the main ensemble -- sychronization between the two groups changing over the course of the movement in specific ways.

Choral forces return, after their absence since the first movement, now for a wordless dream on interior phrases of Bethany / Nearer, my God, (the chorus here and previously thereby on material exclusively derived from Mason), which, by this point, certainly would have called to mind the sinking of the Titanic (April 14-15, 1913), and the yearning for peace during World War I (1914-18).

I-II were first performed on a Pro Musica International Referendum Concert, by 50 members of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Eugene Gooosens, January 29, 1927, Town Hall, New York.  While this ensemble was sufficient for the chamber scoring of the first movement, the second requires almost twice as many performers.  It was Ives's only experience of the symphony live.

Henry Bellamann's note to this performance (very much in the spirit of Ives's own characterization), as his tone of voice and use of language is obvious throughout) states, "The aesthetic program of the work is that of many of the greatest literary and musical masterpieces of the world -- the searching questions of What? and Why? which the spirit of man asks of life. This is particularly the sense of the prelude. The . . .  succeeding movements are the diverse answers in which existence replies" (In Memos, Ives misquotes Bellamann's program note by attributing to it the previous description of the Finale).

An arrangement of III by Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) was performed on May 10, 1933, again in New York.

The symphony did not have a complete performance until Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, April 26, 1965... 11 years after Ives's death.

It was soon recorded by the same forces for the first time for the Columbia label.

The 1965 performance score, published by G. Schirmer (AMP), has recently been augmented by the new Charles Ives Society Critical Edition, 2011 (edited by William Brooks, James Sinclair, Kenneth Singleton, Wayne Shirley, and Thomas M. Brodhead), which presents the music in the largely unperformable but compositionally intriguing state in which Ives left it in his manuscripts, and then a necessary corresponding Performance Score (ed. Thomas M. Brodhead), which was premiered at the Lucerne Festival, August 26, 2012, under the direction of Peter Eötvös.