Thursday, July 4, 2013

Charles Ives on Independence Day

Yes, it is the Fourth of July again. Independence Day in America. So here is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas performing “Fourth of July”, the third movement of A Symphony: New England Holidays by Charles Ives:

This is from the 1986 CBS recording. The liner notes say:
“The Fourth of July (Summer)”, the most complex and difficult of the four movements, was premiered in Paris on February 21, 1932, performed by the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris under the sympathetic and expert guidance of Nicolas Slonimsky. In his Memos, Ives summarized his approach as follows: “I did what I wanted to, quite sure that the thing would never be played, and perhaps could never be played — although the uneven measures that look so complicated in the score are mostly caused by missing a beat, which was often done in parades. In the parts taking off explosions [two such explosions occur, in the middle and at the end], I worked out combinations of tones and rhythms very carefully by kind of prescriptions, in the way a chemical compound which makes explosions would be made.”
Thematically, much of the work is built out of the interplay of motives from patriotic and popular tunes: “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean”, heard in the bass register, provides a harmonic and structural framework, above which can be heard, more recognizably, fragments from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “The Battle Cry of Freedom”, “Yankee Doodle”, “The Girl I Left Behind Me” and numerous other tunes.
Fun fact: Ives’s wife was named Harmony.

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