Friday, July 07, 2006

"Classical" American Music, cont'd from July 5 post

Charles Ives, America's First "Classical" Composer
I was trying to buy a copy of Charles Ives's Essays Before a Sonata on eBay but one guy wanted $6.95 for the book but 7.65 for shipping and handling and then an extra $2.50 for "mandatory" insurance, which made the book end up costing right at $17.00. BS on that, so I didn't buy the book. I read the book many years ago, first becoming fascinated by Ives's Second Piano Sonata, the Concord, and then having to read what Ives wrote about composing it. If I remember correctly, Ives is an interesting writer; not at all hard to read.

Virgil Thomson reviewing John Kirkpatrick's recital of American music Times Hall in NYC, November 24, 1943, wrote, "Charles Ives's Concord Sonata was esteemed by Lawrence Gilman the finest piece of music ever written by an American [I'd say ever written--period, but I'm prejudiced] and it very well may be that. Certainly it is a massive hunk of creation; four massive hunks, in fact. Because it is really four symphonic poems, named respectively 'Emerson,' 'Hawthorne,' 'The Alcotts,' and 'Thoreau': four full-lengthed portraits done with breadth, tenderness, and wit. 'The Alcotts' is the best integrated of these and probably the most original, or indigenous, in its musical material and fancy. is music, real music; and Americans should have no difficulty accepting its subject matter or understanding its indigenous grandeur." Virgil Thomson, Music Reviewed: 1940-1954, Vintage Books, 1967.

That's beautiful to me, especially the part about Ives's "indigenous grandeur," which is what all of Ives is; Ives is Ives is Ives.

I've also been meaning to quote this piece of interesting notation found among Ives's papers, a statement Ives wrote about his America Variations for Organ, first performed by young Charles in Danbury in 1891, then in Brewster, New York, in 1892, when Ives was 17 and 18. Ives wrote in 1932, "One variation was the theme in canon, put in three keys together, B-flat-E-flat-A-flat, and backwards [the cancrizans of Hindemith who was at Yale?]. A-flat-E-flat-B-flat--but this was not played at the church concerts as it made the boys rough and noisy...

"In the MS at the bottom of p 8 there are two rhythms made by off-accents ((4 [sixteenth note triplet] against 3 [sixteenth note quadruplet])). In some of these passages, the lower pedal rhythm keeping the regular 3/4 is omitted--this is often done in jazz today. [1932]."

I love it; Ives mentioning jazz. Is it syncopation?

Ives also mentions "Steve Foster" in some of his notes, and Steve's tune Camptown Races , which appears in a lot of Ives's works but is especially noticeable in the 2nd Symphony, the one "commonly identified with the dominant French horn figure in Dvorak's New World Symphony, premiered in New York in December 1893--i.e. before Ives started work on his 2nd Symphony. Its use in The American Woods antedates the New World Symphony by four years." David Woolbridge, From Steeples and Mountains, Knopf, 1974.

Here's something else about Ives I didn't realize: "Two days after his fifteenth birthday, Charles started organ lessons with Alexander Gibson, organist, St. Luke's, Norwalk. He was now giving more and more time to composition, and experimenting with 'interval series,' as they are called--a device once thought to originate with Bartok and Berg, then aged 8 and 4 respectively. The MS of an organ Burlesque Cadenza has the marginalia: I played for Mr. Gibson--it made him laugh!" From Steeples and Mountains.

There is something intriguing about Ives the same way Charles Parker, Jr., is intriguing; like it's unbelieveable to a person of deep musical mind what these geniuses could come up with on the "spur of the moment," the phrases, the polytonalities, the avant-garde-ish then cancrizanic backwards and forwards aligning of lines, phrases, tempos, beats, measures, braces of notes, blendings of sections, that defy fingering or vocalization. Like, I can't imagine having to play the head in sync with Charles Parker, Jr.--like Miles, Dizzy, Kenny, all those trumpet players had to do--the pianists, yeah, well, like Bud Powell, he already had lightning in his fingers. Just as I can't imagine sitting down before the score of The Concord and having to immediately start playing it. These two American musicians are so similar in their improvisational thinking, and I truly believe Ives may have been an improvisational composer--as evidenced too in Essays Before a Sonata--it's one of the traditions of church organists, i.e. Bach, Ives, Marcel Dupre, the ability to come up with the proper musical emotion to fit the meaning of the service. Bach was always experimenting during his church musical programs and so was Ives, as is evident by the many variations involved in his every work--variation upon variation-- which "is often done in jazz today" [2006].

I was listening to the American jazz innovator Lennie Tristano last night right after I had listened to Ives's Fourth Symphony and golly-gee, the similarities are there, the beautifully structured dissonances, the cancrizanic starts and restarts, each going forward, then going backwards only to go forwards (crescendo-ing) better the next time, each going forward (crescendo-ing) advancing the rather fugal progressions coming out of BOTH HANDS into one glorious piece. And in the middle of Lennie's most harmonically dissonantly beautiful passages I started hearing echoes of Ives's "indigenous grandeur." That's the American grandeur, folks, and you can only find it in good ole American music, which we can now trace "classically" back to 1874 with the birth of Charles Edward Ives in Danbury, Connecticut.

for The Daily Growler

Note: The Daily Growler staff, totally unpaid and uncared for by the Daily Growler organization, the most disorganized bunch in the Chaotic cosmos, is in and out of headquarters loosely these days. Blogging is the last thing they are thinking of with so much love in the air and so many bottles of good Mexican beer to be drank, steaks to be eaten, barbecue at Virgils to be washed down with plenty of frozen margaritas, or prancing downtown to get involved in the newest fad in boring droning music and flat up and down white dancing, though we do have all races among our little conglomeration, like Wong Ray our office Hop Sing [in one Bonanza epidsode, the eldest son, Adam, helps an Irish biddy set up a mining camp tent restaurant so she can earn enough money to get back to San Francisco, and it turns out her cooking wows the miners and the Cartwright boys who are soon seen eating in this tent contraption it seems like all the damn time during the hour show. In one scene, though, the boys are back home at the Ponderosa dining table with their Pa sitting around hankering for some food and wondering why Hop Sing's so damn slow in bringing out the vittles. Finally Hop Sing comes out of the kitchen and he tartly says, "No food for you tonight." "What's the matter, Hop Sing?" Ben asks. "You no longer like Hop Sing's cooking so Hop Sing no longer cook." "But Hop Sing," Hoss bawls, "I'm starving to death..." "Well," Hop Sing retorts, "why don't you go to little lady's tent and eat there. Hop Sing quit." Wow, Hop Sing dictating to a white family his demands. How politically correct was Bonanza? Even though Hop Sing caved in and admitted the little lady's food was plenty good and the show ended in the typical Hollywood way of always ending shows on a comical upbeat with all the characters whether evil or divine chortling and guffawing and hugging and slapping backs as they merrily end another episode of the same old teevee shit]. One or two Growlers were recently reported being seen on the Island of Calm in the Ocean of Past Dreams, pissing away their troubles in that magic surf. Ah the pleasures of summer. But, The Daily Growler will be maintained. thegrowlingwolf has agreed to give up his career as a rabble-rousing rowdy and settle in behind his laptop to continue as best he can a one-man show here at The Daily Growler for as long as his little paws can pound away the prattle necessary to slowly blog onward--The Daily Growler just passed its 3rd month in existence; raise high those roofbeams, all ye carpenters.

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